The COVID-19 pandemic raised genuine dilemmas regarding the proper balance between civil liberties and public safety.

Democratic governments around the world imposed many restrictions on civil liberties, which in many countries were the biggest peacetime rollback of fundamental rights seen in modern history. At the same time, the precautionary principle demanded public health officials take these steps to minimize death and serious illness.

Measures from compulsory mask wearing and social distancing, to curfews and lockdowns and border closures and travel bans greatly limited freedom of movement and assembly in virtually every democracy. Contact tracing raised serious concerns regarding individual privacy. The rollout of vaccine passports and mandatory vaccination restricted a range of freedoms for individuals who oppose vaccination. And the uneven implementation and enforcement of such measures, which disproportionately affected particular individuals, groups and communities, raised significant questions about the right to equality.

The majority of citizens in Western democracies supported temporary limits on basic freedoms at the outset of the pandemic. Yet government policies and public attitudes differed across countries and fluctuated over time. The necessity and desirability of mandatory vaccination in many democracies have stoked varying degrees of political debate and social resistance.

This series explores how governments in Canada, at the federal and provincial level, managed these dilemmas and sought to justify their decisions.

The Jarislowsky Democracy Chair at Toronto Metropolitan University provided financial support and expert guidance for this series.

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