Transcription – English – Dr. Julie Ponesse

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06. Dr. Julie Ponesse.mp4: this mp4 video file was automatically transcribed by Sonix with the best speech-to-text algorithms. This transcript may contain errors.

Dr. Julie Ponesse:
Well, I'm here because for the last two years we haven't had a functioning democracy. The government, the media, in lockstep, in impressive unison, has ignored people for two years. And it's time for the people to speak.

Trish Wood:
And when you say that we haven't had a functioning government, what are you talking about? Is it the the kind of workings of democracy itself that you are afraid for?

Dr. Julie Ponesse:
Do we have 3 hours? I don't think we do. But one thing I can say one thing I can say is that we've had no interaction, no discussion, no debate. In a parliamentary democracy, you expect some degree of representative government. You expect some degree of response from your representatives. And we aren't getting that across the board, whether it's people who support the narrative or don't. We're not seeing and we're not seeing any kind of engagement with the evidence. If people ask for evidence to support any of the pandemic measures, whether it's lockdowns or the masking or the vaccine mandates, any evidence of at all that doesn't come from the pharmaceutical companies, then the normal argumentative procedure is bypassed and we just proceed to ad hominem attacks, character attacks and attempts to stigmatize, belittle and persecute the individual to the point where he or she is intimidated out of the conversation. And that's not a functioning democracy. It's not a democracy at all.

Trish Wood:
And I know your personal situation was that you were in academia and you made a choice about your vaccine and you made a video that went pretty viral. Just give me kind of the Coles notes version of that and then let's expand and maybe hand to the panel about how a broad debate and discussion is being quashed in academic and scientific settings right now.

Dr. Julie Ponesse:
Yeah, a good question. So the video came about, I recorded it with the communications team from the CCCA and I think our main motivation for recording it was because the sort of rigorous, regular presentation of the scientific data and even the ethical principles just wasn't getting the kind of uptake or traction within the population from the media, from the government that it deserved. And so we decided to try to put a bit of a human spin on it, and we framed it as a sort of my I was it was about a week, maybe less, before I was supposed to start teaching a class on ethics at Western. And I framed it as the last ethics lesson, possibly because it was maybe going to be and turned out to be the last thing that my students would hear from me.

Trish Wood:
And I mean, I saw the video. I was very moved by it. You were quite upset that day. And I think that's why it caught on. I think it broke through a kind of cognitive torpor about what was actually happening in academia, didn't it?

Dr. Julie Ponesse:
It very much did. And so many people probably I don't think I would be hyperbolic to say thousands have written or approached me since then, and they're very kind and they express their concern, their sympathy, and they say, I'm so sorry for what happened to you. And I try to explain to all of them that the emotion that you saw in that video is not about my personal circumstance. Whether one person here or there loses a job or loses financial stability, that's it's not inconsequential. But that's not what is devastating. That's not the source of the loss of our humanity. Right now, we are systematically removing people who question who don't fall in line, who don't comply with the narrative. We are extinguishing them from society. And at the same time we're doing that, we are spreading the message, entrenching the ideology that what you need to do to count as a human being, what you need to do to solidify your place in society is to comply and nothing else. You better not be a reasoning, critical thinking person. And by the way, you better not have any emotion attached to you. Dr. Christian speaks so eloquently about the soul. What we lose if we continue along this pathway is a society of automatons, people who do nothing more than cast their votes at the ballot box. And none of those votes are informed. They're no more informed than the consent that's been given to the millions of people across Canada who have received one of these inoculations over the past two years.

Trish Wood:
And just to be clear, you were the video was about that you didn't want to become vaccinated. And as an ethics prof, that's quite an interesting idea that you had an ethical problem with it, right?

Dr. Julie Ponesse:
I did. I did. I actually I mean, what preceded that video is that. So the mandate for Western came into effect in the middle of August, just a couple of weeks before the start of school and several days after we received the email stating that there was a masking mandate and also the vaccination mandate, I wrote a response outlining my concerns. The main points of my letter rested on scientific evidence and ethical principles. I said in the letter to quote, I have it right here in front of me. My primary concern is that the vaccination mandate is not based on evidence based scientific research, and it violates core ethical principles, informed consent among them, and Canadian human rights law. And I think one thing that, you know, you hear all the time people saying that, well, why don't you just comply? What's the big deal? What's the cost anyway? The cost is our humanity. When you impose a mandate, especially a health care mandate, it divides people into three groups. You have the people who would follow do the thing that's being mandated anyway, making the mandate unnecessary. You have people who wouldn't do what's being mandated, even with the presence of the mandate making it ineffective. And then you have a very interesting and I think troubling third group of people who follow what the mandate is requiring only because they're coerced and coercion contravenes a mature adults own decision making process. It means that you allow the individual to consider evidence, weigh that evidence, engage in a deliberative process, compare what's being asked of them to his or her own deeply held beliefs and values and what they're seeing from the world, what data is being presented to them to reach a decision and then saying, Oh, no, we're not going to let you act on that decision.

Dr. Julie Ponesse:
We're going to expect you to follow our command and set instead. So a mandate renders the human being non rational, and for that reason human because we are nothing if not rational beings. And someone might say, well, we impose all kinds of laws. People might not want to follow laws about following traffic orders or paying your taxes. But this one, a health care mandate, is about what goes into your body, and there isn't much else that's more intimate or personal than that. Also, in order to make and I'm not saying that health care mandates are never justified, but if they are going to be ethically justified, there must be a very high threshold. And that will include things like there being a very significant viral threat that that there's a demonstrated safety and efficacy of the vaccines and that there are no available treatments and none of those conditions apply here. So we are undermining a person's rational decision making capacity without any evidence and for no good reason. In addition to that, we have spent 30, maybe 40 years in the field of bioethics and ethics more generally and in academic research. Showing why coercion is one of the worst things you can do to a person. I've taught medical ethics to medical students, to nursing students, and there's probably no concept that's more central to your job as an ethics instructor to an ethics textbook, than the concept of avoiding coercion and understanding competence and informed consent. So I can't stress enough how much hangs on this. The words that it doesn't matter who cares if we violate a person's autonomy? If you know what those words mean, you'll know that they don't make sense when you put them together.

Trish Wood:
Thanks, Julie. I'm going to throw to the panel who I'm sure have lots of questions for you.

Preston Manning:
Yeah. Thank you very much for your comments. I'd like to pick up on I think your initial contention is that there is no effective democratic representation of the views that that you and others have expressed. One way of fixing that is to get people who hold some of the views that you've expressed to run for public office. I've been involved in candidate recruitment since 1968, for a long time. I have tried to get, for example, people in the university community to run for public office. Very difficult to do. Some won't give up tenure. Others don't want to. It's the political arena is a despicable arena right now. Your reputation suffers by running for public office or being elected to a parliament or a legislature. I've tried to get medical people, doctors and that to run for public office. There are very, very few in the current house. I can't remember how many. The difficulty there is this. They made this huge investment in education and their training. The ones I've tried to get has been the ones that the end of their career could you take you don't expect a younger person but the people at the end. So I guess my long rambling question is what can be done to persuade more people who could make this democratic representation to actually run for public office on the themes that you've you've discussed?

Dr. Julie Ponesse:
It's very interesting you mention that we you mentioned that politics is sort of toxic or debilitated, and that's true in academia, too. And very interestingly, at one of the colleges at Western, one of the professors, I believe he's a political science professor, is the presiding MP for the Liberal Party in in London. So we do have this happening but that person in my view, is representative of the closed kind of academic system that we have created. And so if I understand you correctly, I think your question is how do we how do we draw from these sectors, from the academic sector, from the from the health care sector, the people who are able and willing to represent the people and to challenge the prevailing narrative? And that is a huge question. I think one thing is overwhelming is overcoming a kind of fatalism, a kind of feeling that that it won't matter. Everyone I talk to says that, I mean, even the Conservative Party in Canada that could have in the past and relied on perhaps to challenge the the sitting the Liberal or NDP party seem to have problems and I won't go into detail there but seem to have problems that prevent the kind of of democratic discourse. So I guess my question is, do we. Is the challenge to recruit the right kind of person? Is the challenge to fix the problems from within first so that the right kind of person is attracted? Or do we have to work on both of these things simultaneously?

Preston Manning:
Yeah, it's a sort of chicken and egg problem. And the typical Canadian answer is do both.

Dr. Julie Ponesse:
Thank you, Doctor. That was a wonderful testimony. I just wondered, from looking at it from a top down perspective, why, what do you think is inhibiting the open discussion in the universities and colleges and other aspects of academia? Well, it's very interesting you ask that, because this is a question that I didn't realize we had this kind of culture of silence, this sort of closed system within academia. I thought, I mean, as someone who's been in it since the late nineties, I guess now, I thought it was a place where every voice was welcome at the table, every idea was potentially viable, and that you could certainly voice it without censure, that there was a kind of safe space. And I think it's been clear now for the last two years that something has been building that's been taking us away from that. I mean, in my own case, there's an irony that an ethics professor so for those who don't know ethics is a subdiscipline of philosophy, and philosophy is built on critical thinking and logic and reasoning. And so firing someone that you hired in order to teach students how to ask good questions and rely on their own critical thinking skills, firing her when she does that, there's a kind of deeply troubling irony and I think hypocrisy at work there.

Dr. Julie Ponesse:
One thing that has definitely been the case over the last decade probably, is that more and more universities are becoming corporations and acting like corporations, and that money fuels how we make decisions. Everything from the administration that's hired to the kinds of academics that are hired, to the kinds of courses and departments and courses that are offered in departments that are created. So we need I mean, to speak to Dr. Christian's point. If other academics are listening, I know the promotion and tenure process is very delicate and it relies heavily on peer review. And I think we need to I mean, we can't we have to change the culture from inside. We have to remember why we were drawn to academia in the first place, because we believe that the pursuit of truth and knowledge and when you're an ethicist, you want to use that desire for truth and knowledge to help make people's lives better, to ask questions about why we're here and what we're doing and how we can do it better. And if you've lost that story, if you've lost that reason for existing, then what are you doing? What's the point? I don't believe that our universities in Canada right now serve anyone. I think they are crippling our students who they're training for a workforce that doesn't exist and they're training them to follow rules and not to think for themselves.

Dr. Julie Ponesse:
And until we fix that problem, and this is no better answer than the one I just gave right to, because we this is a cultural problem. We need to believe that individuals matter. We need to believe that reason matters and will help to improve our lives and improve the world, and that we aren't just cogs in a wheel, that our lives can't be sacrificed for the sake of a broader narrative or agenda that we don't even understand. So to answer your question, I don't think I can answer your it's a tremendously large challenge, but we need, I believe deeply that there are many within the university community, whether students or faculty right now, who are deeply troubled over this issue and are just afraid to speak up. And I would to draw from Aristotle, who said that courage is just the right relationship between fear and confidence. Go and get your confidence going. You can you know, you are rational. You can you can look at evidence and filter it and decide for yourself, figure out who you are that will help you conquer your fears and help us to see the courage that we have needed in academia all along.

David Ross:
Thank you, Dr. Ponesse, for your for your testimony this morning. You are a remarkable Canadian, courageous Canadian. And we thank you for your testimony. And actually, I think that you pretty much just answered the question I had for you. What would be your message for students and the next young generation regarding the way Canada has gone these past two years? And I think you could probably just just just bridge off what you what you just said.

Dr. Julie Ponesse:
So thing that's so devastating about what we're doing is what we're doing to our young people. When you think about people our age, you know, and we've had the chance to have a life in some sense, to be educated in a different world and a different context to figure out who we are. But our poor young people, I mean, anxiety disorders are rampant among the adolescent population. They're the number one mental health disorder in Canada. In the US right now, suicide has reached unrest. I mean, things are terrible for our young people. The ones I talk to in a more personal level in terms of testimony, they're they're worried, they're uncertain about the future. They don't know what's going to happen. They don't feel they can rely on themselves. Because we live in this world of social media, where reputation is what seems to make a life or break a life. One thing I would want to say to them is post-secondary education is not your only option. Please don't feel like you don't have a life if you don't choose that right now. When it comes to these mandates, I've dealt with so many and talked to so many students in university and their parents who say, well, I just caved, did what I didn't want to do because I had to go to university. Well, the university students I talked to now say it's been a terrible year, that they had such a hard time focusing on their studies because all of this COVID response stuff was at the forefront. And never mind that. But then there are all the social pressures and discussions that are going on among among the peers. And as someone, quite honestly, who has taught in university for 20 some years, I think our education system is not serving our students.

Dr. Julie Ponesse:
We are not quite sure what we're doing, to be honest. But it's a lot of money, and now it's possibly sacrificing your health and your life for the sake of what? What are you getting out of it? And this is hard for me to say as someone who deeply believes in learning and education, but that's not, you know, paying a big institution a bunch of money is not the only way to become educated. You can become educated in the world by being aware, by talking to people, by reading, by looking at history, by thinking deeply, by exploring different avenues, different hobbies that you've never tried you can become. I don't think we rely enough on on self education and we need to look at these things more deeply. We have the centre of learning that's developing in Canada now, which is a number of academics from different universities in Canada who were who expressed the same views that I'm expressing here today that are very concerned about what's happening to our universities. And I think we're going to see a number of what we might call alternative post-secondary educational options cropping up over the next several years. I would encourage people to take advantage of those and to consider them deeply and to remember what are you. Ask yourself, what are you willing to give up? Just to comply with what's going on today. Are you willing to lose yourself and do you know who you are? I can promise you that if you spend some time thinking about that, you'll probably get a far better education than you will get with a three or four year degree from one of our universities now.

Trish Wood:
Thanks very much, Dr. Ponesse. We're so grateful you could appear today.

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