The Freedom to Speak

Section two of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms guarantees the right of all Canadians to voice their opinions on any subject they feel the need to voice an opinion on without fear of recriminations. There are limits, of course. You can't libel someone, spew hate propaganda, or engage in obscenities. But what you can do in this country - with the Charter at your back - is publicly and vocally disagree with any government policy or institution you feel is having a negative impact on your life or the lives of your fellow Canadians.

I mention this because in the years since I wrote Rain on a Distant Roof: A Personal Journey Through Lyme Disease in Canada I've had the opportunity to connect with a great many Canadians suffering from Lyme disease and related tick-borne illnesses. Many have told me about their struggles with both the disease itself and with a healthcare system that is at best unresponsive to their needs. For many Canadian Lyme sufferers that system has been the source of increased suffering and, in the worst cases, outright humiliation.

While some Lyme sufferers have been very vocal about their struggles, many more have chosen to remain silent. And always they give the same reason: They fear that if they publicly criticize their doctors, health authorities, or anyone else for failing to provide them with a satisfactory level of care that they will be subject to exactly the sorts of recriminations that the Charter makes illegal. Getting blackballed by their doctors is often their greatest concern even in cases where they feel those doctors are failing to help them in any meaningful way.

I'd like to draw your attention to an initiative that has recently caught my attention. Sue Faber, a registered nurse who herself has had a nasty battle with Lyme disease, has instigated a letter writing campaign through which she hopes to collect 10,000 letters from Lyme disease sufferers, their caregivers, and anyone else interested in seeing improvements in the way Lyme disease is treated in this country. The plan is to hand deliver these letters to federal health minister Jane Philpott or, failing that, to hand deliver them to her constituency office. But they will be delivered.

This letter writing campaign gives Lyme sufferers an excellent opportunity to be heard by a someone in a position to provide help. And the more people who participate, the better the results are likely to be. The federal health minister needs to hear the stories that I have been hearing for years and she needs to hear just how many of those stories there are. There is a perception at the highest levels of public health that very few people in Canada have Lyme disease largely because a vocal minority has been speaking on behalf of everyone. It's now time for everyone who has been silent to speak up. It's the only way to ensure that things are going to change for the better.

Anyone who is nervous about spilling their guts to the federal health minister just needs to remember this: A federal minister is one of the least likely people in this country to stomp on your Charter rights. As career killers go, that's a pretty big one in political circles. So tell your story loudly and proudly. Say what you think about the way Lyme and related diseases have been handled in Canada. In standing up for your own rights, you are standing up for the rights of all Canadians. And if the projections for how quickly Lyme disease is going to spread across Canada are even remotely accurate, then it's safe to say that all Canadians - whether they know it or not - need you to stand up for improvements in healthcare that will impact a significant number of Canadians within just a few years.

Picture of Vanessa FarnsworthVanessa Farnsworth is a British Columbia-based writer with an in-depth knowledge of Lyme disease. Her work has been published in magazines & journals across Canada and in the United States.
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