If nothing else, the pandemic has made rapid learners out of all of us. Epidemiology, pharmacology, economics, global trade and travel, and constitutions have been rich with overnight specialist opportunity.
It has been as easy for naturopaths to acquire speedy expertise in epidemiology and public health as it has been to make the simple switch from theology to biology or from stocks and bonds to pandemic management.
There are now writers of fiction who currently offer specialist direction in biochemistry and physiology, and medical practitioners who know everything about communication and behaviour change. A knowledge of video cameras is also apparently adaptable to expertise in electron microscopy.
Yet, one of the more striking things about the current period has been the emergence of brand-new concern about the scope and nature of human rights. Suddenly, people are recognising linkages between medical imperative and a right to decide and even a right of free expression.
Selective application of choice, some now argue, is all in order as a matter of “rights.” Not all, of course, because women should not have access to reproductive rights and people of the LGBTQ community should not have equal opportunity under the law.
It has not been an easy ride, this novel concern about human rights. Pervasive unfamiliarity with even some basic tenets has fuelled loud but largely meaningless debates about vaccine mandates, freedom of movement, and the emergency powers of the state.
You can tell when people are grasping at a straw to which little attention has previously been paid. Skip the parts about rights as universal, indivisible, and inalienable. This is rapid, homemade administering of bush medicine. Get to the point. You do not want to take the vaccine.
As has been the case with medicine—and specialisations within the discipline—people with a sound grounding in the law ought to have been rushing to the front to provide the required guidance.
But there has always appeared to have been a reluctance by the legal fraternity to become meaningfully engaged.
As someone concerned about and actively engaged in advocacy in favour of press freedom and freedom of expression for decades now, I have often wondered about the lack of enthusiasm.
One senior legal practitioner once confessed to me that this area is not a naturally occurring concern within the fraternity, except when needed to bolster popularity or to benefit from a lucrative brief. There are notable exceptions, of course. But such professionals constitute a small minority.
As evidence, it took the Media Association of T&T (MATT) and the T&T Publishers and Broadcasters Association (TTPBA)—voluntary industry organisations—to remind the government, albeit through scarce legal counsel, that even with the best intentions, data protection and cybercrime legislation as conceptualised by politicians here can have the impact of criminalising acts of journalism and other forms of public interest communication.
When that point was made at hearings of the Joint Selection Committee of Parliament on the Cybercrime Bill 2017, there was no groundswell of negative popular expression.
The lack of support was hardly surprising. When some of us marched for press freedom on November 20,1998 against the backdrop of perceived governmental ill-intent for the media sector, there were people at the street corners jeering and casting hateful glances.
During parliamentary debate on the abolition of criminal defamation in 2013, government, opposition and independent senators were almost unanimously dead set against the view that, with very few defendable exceptions, people should not be imprisoned for their expression.
Now, suddenly, “freedom of expression” is deemed dependable to address the concerns of people who wish to enter “safe zone” without being vaccinated.
Only a week ago, someone posed a question to me on social media about proposed vaccination cards and “freedom of expression” (in quotes).
I think I lost a social media follower when I responded tersely and impatiently: “Why is freedom of expression in quotes? There have always been acceptable derogations of the principle. Lots of literature on this.”
But who really goes to the “literature?” Who truly believes in this stuff?
The 2013, Senate debate was instructive. Our post-colonial default routinely errs on the side of prohibition, except when a good time is to be had by most.
I am not fooled by the overnight interest and concern. There is a nuanced, informed debate to be engaged on some of this. I am hearing, for example, about a national ID card. While we await more, take the vaccine please. It will protect you and others. That’s an easy one to learn.