4. Heather DiGregorio (third NCI Commissioner)
Good morning, everyone. Thank you for taking the time to hear from each of us this morning. As a lawyer, I understand the fundamental importance of always hearing both sides of every story before reaching a judgment, of being open-minded and hearing each side's arguments and perspectives before making a decision. I joined the NCI because I wanted to understand what we had done as a nation and why. I wanted to hear the reasons and justifications for the myriad of rules that were imposed on us almost overnight: the lockdown orders, the school closures, the mask mandates, the vaccine passports, the quarantine hotels. And I wanted to square those with the impacts they had on our society, on us as a civilized nation.
I believe that we should face what we have done and ask: Did we do the right thing? Were there unexpected consequences? Was it worth it?
When I first agreed to be a commissioner, I intended to undertake an impartial review of both sides of the story of the measures that were enacted in Canada in response to the pandemic. I expected that we would hear from a full spectrum of Canadians, including government representatives, experts, and everyday Canadians. Unfortunately, we only heard one side of the story because not one single government representative came to testify before us. Not one decision-maker came to justify what was done. At the same time, we heard from Canadians across the country in both official languages about their experiences, and it wasn't good.
Without getting the other side of the story, the justification from our leaders and decision-makers, what were we to conclude? Readers of our report need to keep this in mind. We gathered evidence from hundreds of Canadians and dozens of non-government experts.
The evidence we have all points one way: to a significant breakdown of Canadian institutions, the division of our society, neighbors pitted against neighbors, families torn apart, individuals suffering grievous injuries which their own doctors won't acknowledge, feelings of isolation, depression, suicides, pain, and grief. And against this was contrasted the official statements from our governments during this time, promising to keep us safe if only we keep following their directives. This message echoed over and over again by the media.
As a lawyer, I paid particular attention to the testimony about our Canadian legal system. The Canadian Constitution and the Charter of Rights are something I have always been proud of as a Canadian. Fundamentally, our Charter of Rights enshrines the mutual respect that we hold for each other. Respect for one another, even when we have differences of opinion, is reflected in our most supreme law by guaranteeing that the government cannot tread on my neighbor's rights; we guarantee our own. This is never more important than when things are difficult, in times of fear and uncertainty.
Our report contains recommendations to renew and rebuild confidence in Canada's courts, to limit the delegation of power to unelected institutions, and to strengthen the accountability of our institutions to the public. Canadians relied on their institutions to serve them during the pandemic; critical institutions failed us, and public policy suffered, people suffered. It is my hope that the recommendations we have made are widely distributed for discussion and consideration.
Many of our recommendations call for more inquiry and investigation. As Canadians, we should not be afraid to ask the questions that matter most, and we should not be afraid to hear the answers. It is my personal belief that this is the only path forward to healing our nation. And lastly, I would like to say that it has been my incredible honor to serve as a commissioner on the National Citizens Inquiry. Seeing the strength of ordinary Canadians, even in the darkest times of their lives, gave me renewed hope. I want to acknowledge the bravery of every witness who stood up and testified publicly, live-streaming on the internet for everyone to see, facing their fears of shame and scorn from friends, family, and society. It was my honor to bear witness to your stories, and I know that there are many, many Canadians who have found comfort, solace, and hope in hearing your stories and discovering that they weren't alone. This was an experience unlike any other in my lifetime, and I am humbled and grateful to have played my small part in something so much bigger and greater than myself. Thank you.