A Repressive Political Act

Université Laval has resorted to professional violence to prop up Quebec’s crumbling covid narrative.  The instrument of violence is an eight-week suspension without pay. The objects of violence are two full professors:  Patrick Provost, in the Faculty of Medicine’s department of microbiology, infectious diseases and immunology, and Nicolas Derome, in the Faculty of Science and Engineering’s biology department.

A secondary casualty of the violence is the principle of academic freedom, for the crime in both cases is publishing concerns about official policies said, but not shown, to be based on science—science within the range of their own expertise—and about the negative impact of those policies, especially where children are concerned.

We knew that lecturers and professors elsewhere were being suspended or even fired for refusal to participate in the covid vaccination experiment. Apparently they can be suspended without pay at Laval even for defending others from harmful policies and our children from rapacious pharmaceutical companies. And this in the very month that the new law protecting academic freedom has been adopted by the National Assembly, including the freedom to express one’s “opinion about society and about an institution” and indeed “about any doctrine, dogma or opinion.”

Since no respectable university would behave in this fashion, and Laval has ancient and very respectable roots, it may reasonably be inferred that some serious pressure was applied by parties within the university and/or by political and economic forces outside it, a point to which I will return.  Similar pressure will have been brought to bear on or by Québecor, which with remarkable disregard for journalistic independence has removed an article by Provost that it published only days ago in Journal de Montréal and other media organs.

Provost’s basic argument in the article goes something like this: that, while the threat posed by COVID-19 was real, it was never of the magnitude that citizens were given to believe; that legitimate cautionary measures morphed into scientifically unwarranted policies that must be deemed essentially political in nature; and that, given the grave harm done by those policies, it’s time for a collective examination of conscience.

Provost has said such things before, as have many others, including eminent scientists and doctors from around the world, though these too have often been subject to censure, well-organized censure in high (and highly corrupt) places. I myself have said such things, albeit from a different disciplinary perspective. There is a growing consensus among people who are paying attention to the facts on the ground that the time has come, not only for critical words, but for collective action.  Some of that action is taking place in courts across the country, which have begun to examine the way governments and universities and hospitals and professional associations have been behaving during the pandemic.

[Related: “Moving Forward: Is Legacy Higher Ed a Lost Cause?”]

The great majority of the censored article by Professor Provost consists of fact-claims drawn from official INSPQ statistics and of questions about the province’s response to those facts; elaboration of his own political opinions, to which he is perfectly entitled, is kept to a minimum. The fact-claims add up to this: All-cause mortality in Quebec during the pandemic was not historically anomalous; the vulnerable here, as elsewhere, were the already ill or frail by reason of advanced age and/or co-morbidities; covid-related hospitalizations, even at the peak periods, remained under six per cent of the total hospitalizations; and overall hospitalization numbers for the year from April 2020 to March 2021 were down (not up) 17.5%.

Now, unless these claims are convincingly refuted, or accepted but shown persuasively to be the happy consequence of government policies, they are absolutely damning of those policies. To the best of my knowledge, the only stat (in the brief list just provided) for which the government can take credit is the last: its policies reduced the ordinary use and efficiency of our hospitals, and of our entire medical system, by a very considerable margin; for which we did pay, are paying, and will pay a severe price beyond any price exacted by the virus itself.

Provost’s list of probing questions is definitely disturbing. I will not attempt to summarize it except to say that, though the rhetoric is very restrained, the rhetorical effect is not. By the time one reaches the end of the list one might well be moved to tears at our collective folly and the suffering it has caused. And Provost, I note, doesn’t even mention vaccine deaths and damage, for which the evidence (such evidence as cannot successfully be hidden) grows stronger and more disturbing every day.

La Presse‘s Isabelle Hachey mentions that Provost himself is among the vaccine-injured. She doesn’t tell us what the university thinks of that unfortunate fact; only that it objects to his “controversial comments about Pfizer and Moderna’s messenger RNA vaccines, which have been proven to be effective against the ravages of COVID-19.” Acknowledging that he is an RNA specialist, she defends his academic freedom and seems vaguely sympathetic to his concern for children, but adds that “if messenger RNA vaccines were dangerous at this stage of the pandemic, we would know about it.”

I’m glad to see journalists defending academic freedom. I wish they would return to defending journalistic freedom by occasionally going off-narrative themselves—or at least refusing to spike or pull articles by those who do. I could wish Hachey a little more sensitive to the fact that the danger she says “we” don’t know about many of us do know about, by bitter experience. And that journalists would poke around a little to find out just how many.

Can Hachey really be ignorant of the fact that vaccine injury reporting mechanisms in Europe and America have wracked up far higher tallies in the last eighteen months than in all previous years put together? Is it possible she doesn’t know anyone besides Professor Provost who has had a spot of bother after being injected, including (in far too many cases) being fitted for a casket? Has she not heard of the widespread clotting effects or the calamitous rise in myocarditis? Perhaps she is unaware that the risk/benefit analysis for covid vaccination has dropped, or dropped back, into negative territory; that the Pfizer papers have revealed some rather shocking information; that even Bonnie Henry’s emails out in BC show that some people knew very early in the vaccination campaign that there were troubles. But has it not occurred to her that, given what’s been happening in disconcerting numbers to older children and adults, to say nothing of poor old Gran, injecting younger children is irresponsible to the point of criminality?

[Related: “Reflections on the Tyranny of Campus COVID Restrictions”]

Hachey reports that Laval university accused Provost “of having demonstrated a ‘deliberate confirmation bias in the choice of information’ and of having failed to be responsible ‘to the general public, which was exposed to studies that did not reflect the entirety of current scientific knowledge.'” Well, there’s plenty of that to go around! Official numbers, as the university will certainly know, are often prepared precisely to prop up preferred narratives, even if diametrically opposed to the truth.

To give credit where credit is due, she challenges the university on the veracity of its own (now falsified) claim that “any subject may be discussed and, in the case of controversial subjects, the institution avoids censorship and encourages the expression of opinion.” And on its failure, through censorship and heavy fines, to let the process of scientific dispute between professorial colleagues run its proper course. Hachey seems to agree that this is not how a respectable university behaves.

But perhaps our universities aren’t respectable anymore, not even Canada’s oldest university. Perhaps respect for scientific process, and for truth itself, is now beyond the ken or courage of the bureaucrats who run them and the scientists who inhabit them, dependent as they are on industry and government largesse. Pharmaceutical largesse, for those who don’t know this, even includes ghost-writing of phony research papers and large donations for research chairs or projects, the task of which is not scientific but political or psychological—reducing “vaccine hesitancy,” for example. Some universities are now formally partnered with Pharma for mutual profit.

I have myself spoken with Patrick Provost, and believe him to be an able scholar and an honest man. That is more than I can say for those who are censoring him because his analysis and his conclusions are inconvenient. Inconvenient is not really the right word, of course. For, if Provost is on the right track and “we” are on the wrong track, there will sooner or later be hell to pay. His university is trying to make it later rather than sooner, but its actions may well backfire.

There’s no better time than the present to find out who is on the right track, or at least how effective Quebec’s attempt to protect academic freedom will prove. At all events, let’s stop pretending there’s nothing to debate and that anyone who wishes to debate must be demented or perverse, deserving only of marginalization or punishment. That’s little better than—indeed, it’s all of a piece with—pretending that the unvaccinated are to blame for the woes of the vaccinated, or the vaccine-damaged for not suffering in silence.

Provost, in my judgment, is right: “The consensus on Covid-19 is political: it has never been scientific.” What then is Laval’s punitive censorship, in the name of science, but a repressive political act that does violence to science itself?

Editor’s Note: This article was originally published on Professor Farrow’s Substack, Desiring a Better Country, on June 30, 2022 and is crossposted here with permission. Subscribe to the Substack here.

Image: Unsplash, Public Domain


  • Douglas Farrow

    Douglas Farrow is professor of theology and ethics at McGill University and author of seven books, including "Nation of Bastards," "Desiring a Better Country," and "Theological Negotiations."

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4 thoughts on “A Repressive Political Act

  1. The more I learn about Canada, the more glad I am that the US has a 1st Amendment, a 2nd Amendment, a 5th Amendment- a 14th Amendment, etc…

    I was truly shocked at what was done to the truckdrivers — and that the govt got away with it.

  2. I too live in Quebec and saw firsthand government overreach.

    Twice the province imposed a curfew that had no scientific justification according to the province’s own Health Minister. The government also threatened additional health charges for anyone who didn’t get vaccinated. The argument is the unvaccinated used up healthcare resources so they should be penalized. Of course the same could be said about sedentary lifestyles, smoking, poor diet and driving while intoxicated. None of those health-impacting choices warranted this kind of threat in the past or present.

    It’s accurate to say that most of the deaths came from nursing homes and other government controlled group living environments. The harm was amplified by government orders to force seniors to stay in these COVID hot spots thereby increasing the risks of infection. When the facilities pleaded with the government for more resources they were given the cold shoulder. With all of the finger pointing, the coroner’s inquest could not determine that anyone in government bore any responsibility for the policies and missteps.

    So we have a wag the dog narrative that everyone is at risk, must be vaccinated, or else. No wonder any departure from this view is aggressively put down.

  3. About 15 years ago, while a public health Assistant Professor at Purdue, I wrote a paper using data from over 1700 local public health departments in the United States that showed that the level of federal funding for a particular program had no impact on local health department activity, but rather the presence of local program leaders did. The implication is that if local leadership thinks an issue is significant, they find a way to address it, and if they don’t, no amount of federal funds will make it a priority.

    I submitted it sequentially to the top three public health journals and had it rejected without review. All three were edited by people who had been advocates of the idea that the problem with public health was merely a lack of funding. Lest anyone think the rejection was do to low quality, I then submitted it to a top general health policy journal and had it reviewed, accepted, and in print within six weeks.

    Politics is a BIG deal in the field. That was one of three cases during a 9 year academic career when I encountered efforts to block publication over political issues, although the other two were by government funders trying to exert pressure. In fact, the only government agency I received funding from that did NOT try to block dissemination of accepted, peer-reviewed results was the Department of Defense. I have been in the private sector for about a decade, and have received NO pressure from the for-profit firm I work for to withhold publication of results or shade them — after all, bad analyses and conclusions can cost the firm money from bad decisions. In fact, I was encouraged to present a paper from my research findings at a conference where the audience included many of our competitors! Despite the cries of many in academia about corruption from private funding in health and medical research, my own experience is that government agencies are worse.

  4. Wow….

    For those who don’t remember, academic freedom arose when a Stanford Econ professor who said that Leland Stanford exploited Chinese labor building his railroad. Mrs. Stanford didn’t like that….

    Between this and Naomi Wolf’s _The Bodies of Others_, this is turning into my generation’s Vietnam….

    Vietnam changed a lot of other things and history does repeat itself….

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