By Robert W. Doull

I have been asked to explain why the Pioneer does not accept letters to the editor that describe COVID-19 as a hoax, or why we don’t publish letters that protest the mandatory protective measures that we all must take to prevent the transmission of the virus as a breach of our Charter Rights? After all, we are an organization built upon the idea that free speech is a fundamental right in a democratic society. 

Freedom of speech is your right as an individual and it means that you can congregate with others and express your opinion, you can write what you want and you can share your opinions on social media. It does not mean that you are entitled to say anything you want in our newspaper. We do strive to present a balance of opinions, especially on contentious matters, but ultimately we must exercise editorial judgement over the material we publish. We make mistakes, but we try to hold ourselves to a high standard of accuracy.  

Which brings us back to COVID-19. The Upper Columbia Valley has weathered the pandemic relatively well. There have been very few deaths that we know of so far and the entire Interior Health Region only has about 350 active cases at any one time. Most people don’t know anyone who has contracted it. So they don’t view it as much of a threat, and it is an easy next step to simply deny its existence. From there, it seems logical to become angry about what feels like a non-existent threat and the changes we have all had to make to slow the spread of something no one can see.

However, our newspaper family operates in several communities around the province and our understanding is a little different. We have had to close entire offices for weeks a time because of possible exposures. Two of our employees lost immediate relatives to COVID-19 this year. They died in isolation, unable to breathe. We cannot begin to imagine what they were thinking and feeling.

In one community that we serve there were two outbreaks and twenty-three deaths, fifteen of them in the span of a couple of weeks. The newspaper staff was traumatized. They had never had to report on so many deaths in such a short time, never had to write so many obituaries, never had to talk to so many grieving families. They were in shock. It was as if they had battle fatigue.

The Upper Columbia Valley has been successful in containing the virus. And that’s thanks to all the people who have followed the guidelines and kept themselves and others safe. That’s thanks to the hard working medical professionals, first responders, and front-line workers who have protected their communities. Instead of protesting, we should be thanking all our fellow citizens who have made sacrifices for the common good. 

  So that’s why we won’t run your letter saying COVID-19 is a hoax. We don’t expect this column to change your mind. But this is where we stand.