SHARMARKE DUBOW apologized again Thursday.
“By travelling to see my family at a time when so many others in our community did not do the same, I let you down,” he told his fellow councillors, appearing by video link from Vancouver, where he is quarantining. “I’m sorry.”
It was his first public statement since Jan. 5, when — following a question by the Times Colonist’s Katie DeRosa, who had surveyed all Greater Victoria councillors about where they spent the holidays — he posted a social media message acknowledging he had just returned to Canada from Africa.
In a six-minute address Thursday, Dubow offered this explanation: “When I made the choice to travel to Somalia and Kenya, I considered my travel to be essential.”
He went there to help family members whose already-difficult lives had been worsened by the pandemic, he said. He feared they might be dead if he waited until the crisis was over.
“And yet,” he continued, “I know there are many Victorians and Islanders who haven’t seen their loved ones — many of whom are living with considerable hardships and are vulnerable to COVID 19 — for months, even longer.” He said he should have looked for another way to help his family.
Will that strike a chord of sympathy, or just further alienate people who, as he said, have spent the pandemic cut off from their own ailing, aging relations? Either way, the councillor isn’t giving in to calls for his resignation.
At least Dubow wasn’t merely chasing fun in the sun, as was the case with many of the Canadian politicians whose holiday travels ignited what Premier John Horgan referred to at a Thursday press conference as a “firestorm of frustration and anger.”
It’s not just globe-trotting elected officials who are fuelling the fury, though. British Columbians who have dutifully spent months hunkered down at home wonder why potential COVID-carriers from other parts of Canada are allowed to jet here on vacation.
In fact, it was in response to such a question — it had to do with a Whistler ER doctor’s concerns about not-from-B.C. skiers frolicking at the resort — that Horgan revealed Thursday that he is seeking legal advice on a potential ban on non-essential travel between provinces.
It’s not a simple question. The desire to keep people at home has to be balanced against charter and other rights, Horgan said.
“To the ER doc and other British Columbians, I agree with you that, on the surface, it would seem an easy thing to do — to just tell people not to come here. That’s not part and parcel of who we are as Canadians.”
Also, as Dr. Bonnie Henry said later Thursday, defining “essential” isn’t easy, not when so many everyday lives involve crossing provincial borders for work or commerce. B.C. isn’t as neatly contained as her native P.E.I. (nor, she might have said, as Vancouver Island).
In any case, after months of the travel-ban debate raging on unabated, Horgan said it’s time to put the subject to bed, one way or the other. After discussing the matter with his cabinet at a two-day “virtual retreat” that began Thursday, the premier hopes to be able to provide clarity early next week.
“I want to put this either to rest so that British Columbians understand that we cannot do that and we’re not going to do that, or there is a way to do it and we are going to work with other provinces to achieve it,” Horgan said.
His interest reflects the public mood toward those who deviate from travel restrictions. There seems to be a public appetite for a harder line, at least as it relates to Canadians leaving the country.
Note that a just-released Angus Reid Institute poll found that two-thirds of Canadians say that if it were up to them they would ground the planes and ban international personal travel altogether. Only one in 10 said it should be up to individual Canadians to decide if they want to go abroad.
Driving their sentiments was another finding: Seven in 10 Canadians, responding to the stay-at home call, have cancelled their own travel plans during the pandemic.