'It's not an idle threat': Hutterite colony considers filing human rights complaint against Manitoba government
WINNIPEG -- A member of the Hutterite community is threatening to file a human rights complaint against the Manitoba Government unless it stops publicly linking COVID-19 cases to Hutterite colonies.
“It’s not an idle threat,” said Paul Waldner, a minister from the CanAm Hutterite Colony. “As soon as the government says ‘Hutterite’, people become scared of us,” Waldner told CTV News on Thursday.
He sent a letter to Premier Brian Pallister and Cameron Friesen, minister of Health, Seniors and Active Living, on Wednesday, writing the recent announcements have caused discrimination against his community.
“Over the course of the past few days, the Colony, together with other Hutterite Colonies located throughout the Province of Manitoba, have watched with growing concern as the Province of Manitoba has publicly identified various Hutterite Colonies as the location of residence of individuals who have tested positive for COVID-19,” Waldner writes.
“As a result of these public announcements, the Hutterite communities have already begun to experience stigmatization by others in surrounding communities."
“Should the announcements continue, we expect the stigmatization, and associated cultural and religious profiling will only worsen.”
In recent days, the province has said multiple COVID-19 cases were connected to Hutterite colonies. On Wednesday, the Manitoba government said seven of eight cases announced were on Hutterite colonies.
Since those announcements, Waldner said he has been asked to use separate entrances while doing business, and that in Alberta, members of the Hutterian community were told not to enter a store.
He added that Hutterite colonies across Manitoba are taking the necessary safety precautions, including cancelling communal meals and church services.
“We’re very, very respectful about the welfare of other people.”
Waldner is asking the province to identify the region where the COVID-19 case is located, instead of naming the community.
PROVINCE SAYS IT WILL ONLY REFER TO CLUSTERS
On Thursday, following the release of the letter, Roussin said the province will no longer specify if there is an outbreak of COVID-19 cases on Hutterite colonies.
"I think moving forward, for the most part, we are going to refer to clusters as clusters in the most generic way that we can," said Roussin, adding the province will release specific information if officials feel the health of Manitobans is at risk.
"Of course, at any time that an announcement is required to protect the health of Manitobans, then we will definitely do that and disclose whatever we feel would be required to keep Manitobans safe."
Roussin said throughout the pandemic, there has been a 'shifting stigma' against many different groups in Canada, which now includes Hutterites.
"It's not useful. It's not appropriate, and it actually hinders Public Health's ability to control this virus," he said.
"Be kind to each other, don't stigmatize each other, don't assume things about people, and let Public Health address this."
‘DEAL WITH THE BIGOTRY ITSELF AND CONFRONT IT’
University of Manitoba ethicist Arthur Schafer said, while he is sympathetic to Waldner’s concerns, he believes the province was right in being transparent.
“Public trust is probably the most precious resource in a time of pandemic,” said Schafer. “Manitoba public health should have given all the information they did, but they also have to stress that all the public health rules were followed (by the Hutterite community).”
Winnipeg based human rights lawyer David Matas agrees with Schafer. He said like the Hutterites, Asian-Canadians, have also faced prejudice during the pandemic.
“Unfortunately there is a tendency to overgeneralize or stigmatize,” Matas told CTV News.
He said rather than withholding information, the province should do more to fight discrimination.
“The virus started in China, unequivocally, yet there is a tendency to blame all ethnic Chinese,” said Matas. “But I don’t think the answer to that is don’t mention ‘China’. I think one has to deal with the bigotry itself and confront it.”
The letter can be read below.