Canada’s Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Theresa Tam did talk of tracking people with “bracelets” and that police could be used to “ensure” co-operation.
But her comments were not on today’s coronavirus pandemic but from a 2010 National Film Board documentary in the context of Montreal’s 1885 small pox epidemic and how that crisis would be handled in modern times.
Listed in the film as director general for the Canadian Centre for Emergency Preparedness and Response, Tam’s appearance in the film Outbreak: Anatomy of a Plague is garnering reaction on social media.
The film “juxtaposes a 21st century scenario against the little-known story of the 1885 smallpox epidemic that devastated Montreal,” states the NFB’s web page, which credits Tam as a participant.
In the Jefferson Lewis-directed film based on late University of Toronto professor and historian Michael Bliss’s book, Tam talks about the measures governments could undertake to prevent disease spread.
Said Tam: “I think the public has to know there is one of the worst case scenarios, in terms of an infectious disease outbreak, in that their cooperation is sought.”
She warned “if there are people who are non-compliant, there are definitely laws and public health powers that can quarantine people in mandatory settings.”
In the film, the visuals go back and forth between her being interviewed to scenes of a man being handcuffed and arrested by armed police. The narration has Tam saying there is “potential you can track people, put bracelets on their arms, have police and their setups to ensure quarantine is undertaken.”
Narrator Colm Feore explains: “Police checkpoints are set up on all the bridges and everyone leaving the city is required to show proof of vaccination. Those who refuse to cooperate are taken away to temporary detention centres.”
Tam reappears and explains, “It’s better to be pre-emptive and precautionary and take the heat of people thinking you might be over-reactionary, get ahead of the curve, and then think about whether you’ve overreacted later. It’s such a serious situation that I think decisive early action is the key.”
It’s stunning commentary in light of what is going on today. While there has been social distancing bylaw violation tickets issued, there has not been mass jailing for noncompliance or tracking bracelets seen.
We have reached out to Tam and the prime minister’s office for comment on the messaging in this taxpayer-funded film. Were these scripted comments for entertainment reasons? Could “bracelets” or “tracking” or “incarcerations” be part of Canada’s future response?
Tam has become a lightning rod of criticism but also of praise and notoriety. While there was a much-criticized challenge to her loyalty to Canada and calls for her to be fired, there have also been many calling her Canada’s biggest COVID-19 star, galvanized with a large mural of her popping up on the wall of a Vancouver building.
Her media briefings are much watched as people long for an end to the restrictions that have shut down Canada’s movement and economy. Even Tam herself Monday expressed her own impatience when she said, “I think I speak for all of us when I say we have never felt more like that kid … we can’t let go of the wheel yet.”
But her potentially prophetic comments in a 2010 NFB docudrama have the famous public health doctor in the spotlight once again.