From David Vincent in Shrewsbury, UK: Snitching contd.

Steve Baker, MP: ‘1984’

It is reported that more than 80 Conservative MPs are prepared to rebel against the imposition of new coronavirus laws.  The MP Steve Baker has invoked Orwell’s 1984 in his portrayal of a dystopian regime.   The numbers are sufficient to defeat the Government and would represent a major reversal in its management of the crisis, at just the moment that deaths and infections are beginning to rise sharply.

The final straw was the overnight introduction of a new set of offences at the beginning of the week.  Fines of at least £10,000 are to be imposed for a range of behaviours, including deliberately mis-identifying someone as a contact of an individual who had tested positive for an infection.

There are several possible explanations for this expansion of the disciplinary state. 

Just as the Minister of Health sought to blame the malfunctioning of testing on too many fit people using the system, now the failure of the tracking mechanism will be attributed to a shadow army of maliciously nominated non-contacts.

Or ministers and officials have indeed identified a vulnerability in the structure of official surveillance.  As I wrote in my entry for May 7, there is a long history of ‘snitching’ – using a new disciplinary mechanism to settle scores between neighbours.  Introducing significant fines for infractions of regulations weaponises local disputes.  If you are irritated by the noise someone next door is making, now at the swipe of an app, you can shut them in their house for a fortnight, or expose them to a hefty fine.

There is evidence that with the coronavirus entering its second wave as the nights draw in, tempers in communities are fraying.  Mediators who deal with neighbourhood disputes are reporting a sharp increase in business.*  According to a provider of such a service in Manchester, “The problems will get worse as people are home more.  If the neighbours are being difficult and you can’t go out because of the weather, that’s going to cause a problem, whether it’s breaking lockdown rules or someone trimming your hedge.” 

As the months pass, tolerance becomes frayed.  The police 101 reporting line [for non-emergency issues] is said to be “swamped” with complaints about people breaching the ‘Rule of Six’ that was introduced as the second wave began.  Some of these reports are well-founded, driven only by a concern to protect public health.  Others have less heroic motives.  A mediator explained that “in a tit-for-tat dispute, people will employ any kind of measure they can and make false allegations about breaches to settle a score.” 

Or, finally, the new regulations are, as Steve Baker and others on the Conservative right are now claiming, the consequence of ministers and officials exploiting the shift of power from the individual to the collective that must happen in any pandemic.  As the number of infections starts to rise again, they can amuse themselves by inventing new offences without any kind of Parliamentary scrutiny, in the latest case seemingly in the small hours of the morning. 

It is a game without limits.  Soon we will need a regulation fining those who maliciously report people for maliciously reporting their neighbours.

*https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/sep/28/covid-crisis-inflames-neighbour-disputes?CMP=Share_iOSApp_Other  

from Susan A. in Ottawa, Canada: April snowfalls and fines for dawdling …

15 April. April is the cruellest month.  When I awoke this morning just after 5.00, the little park behind our house looked strangely light.  Although the sky was clear, there had been a snowfall in the night!  It will surely melt during the day, but it was Nature’s rude reminder not to think about Spring just yet.

And then, checking Facebook while having a first cup of coffee, there was the sad news that the husband of one of my former colleagues at Statistics Canada has died from COVID-19 and that she herself is in critical condition in the hospital.  We had planned to get together after they returned from their stay in Toulouse and ours in Paris.  We returned at the beginning of March but they seem to have stayed till the end.

14 April. And that exchange with my daughter sapped my energy for the week as I waited for a decision.  In the end it was good news, for the time being, and she is at home with her husband and girls, tending her garden.

Now for a little recap of the week that was. 

Fines for dawdling in the parks. Last weekend was quite lovely as mentioned earlier and people were out and about in numbers, but parks had already been closed except to walk through.  Early in the week it was reported that a man had been fined $880 for walking his dog in one closed park, and a man playing with his autistic child in another park had been given a warning.  There were some subsequent negative comments in the press about the harshness of the action, but the mayor noted that warnings were not working.  Still, the communication about what is OK and not OK is as vague as the fines are steep.

Masks. One of my sister’s sons works for 3M Canada, a manager in the Personal Safety Division.  He was slated for a new job just before COVID-19 came to Canada.  Now he remains in his job, is one of the only workers in the offices, and seems to be working all his waking hours.  As one of his self/US protective measures, Mr Trump invoked the 1950 Defense Production Act allowing the government to stop 3M exporting N95 respirators to Canada and Latin America.  In response 3M cited global humanitarian issues as a reason to continue its supply to other countries.  Canada noted that some of the materials used in the masks come from Canada.  Eventually an agreement was reached after the sword rattling and subsequent diplomatic efforts.  That nephew of ours must be learning a good deal about business in a pandemic with an overlay of politics.

Street cleaning. On Monday evening our street was posted with the no parking signs which usually signal that it has finally become almost impassable due to snow banks and the impressive show of heavy equipment would restore it, albeit temporarily, to its two-way status.  Early the next morning there was a very impressive show of heavy equipment, this time to remove winter debris and all the salt and sand that accumulates over the course of an Ottawa winter.  The usual routine of a truck with a sweeper and water spray proceeded up and down the sides and the middle of the street and all quieted down for a bit, then there was a heavy rumble that put in mind the parade of tanks down the Champs Elysees for July 14th festivities.  The rumble was caused by a line of eight trucks spraying again, a sight never seen in previous years.  Later a neighbour told us that it was chemical disinfectant that was being sprayed.  Not confirmed by any press, but very unusual if true.

Easter. Easter Sunday was drab and drear, and we felt sad even though our dear youngish neighbour delivered home-made hot-cross buns for our breakfast.  We had a long phone conversation with our daughter, and caught up with the girls who are at home completing their school years.  The cheerful multi-coloured arrangement of tulips I had picked out to send to them was replaced by the florist with some blue bouquet of odd flowers.  Perhaps it was a representation of the mood of all of us – a little blue.

On Easter Monday we had a Zoom session with a group of our neighbours who we used to meet regularly for dinner or movie nights.  We are four couples, – all retired but one from interesting jobs, and we have a fine time together.  We were immensely cheered by one couple who appeared in large pink bunny ears and related their morning walk wearing same.  They had passed a mother with a little boy, at a six-foot distance of course, and the mother had said to the child “Oh look dear, it’s the Easter bunny.  “Thank you for my chocolate rabbit” said the little child.  The Easter bunny said it had cheered his day!