Friday, 18 October 2019
Environment featured Inclusion

Warren (Gus) Reed: Hey Environment Minister! It’s about my health, just do your job!

Ignoratio elenchi is Latin for ignoring refutation  

The Red Herring

AKA The Red Herring

…. is one of the fallacies identified by Aristotle.  Simply put, it is a trick of debaters: Proving the wrong point…

So when I wrote Dr. Robert Strang, Chief Public Health Officer in Nova Scotia in March, 2016:

“I have written to alert each member of the legislature to a serious and dangerous public health issue arising from the refusal of Minister Miller to enforce a section of the food safety regulations.  

Because her refusal disproportionately impacts people with disabilities, and because of similarities with other public health situations like Flint, Michigan, where governments have failed in their duty, she must be compelled to carry out her obligations.”

And he replied 

“……… your concern is best handled through the NS Building Code. “

He was doing what President Trump does all the time: attempting to redirect the argument to another issue to which he would rather respond. This is a deliberate diversion of attention with the intention of trying to scuttle the original argument:

The enforcement of Food Safety regulations is discriminatory.

The nature of the fallacy, then, consists in substituting for a certain issue another which is more or less closely related to it, and arguing the substituted issue.  It is a particularly prevalent and subtle fallacy and it assumes a great variety of forms.

I’ve encountered it hundreds of times on the Food Safety issue.

Q I want to wash my hands at restaurants so I don’t get sick.  Doesn’t public health protection apply to me?

A You need to change the building code

Q I want to wash my hands at restaurants so I don’t get sick.  Doesn’t public health protection apply to me?

A You’re putting the restaurants out of business

 Huh?

The Government of Nova Scotia has grown adept at this, especially in arguments about the environment:

Q Can we rethink clear cuts for the sake of our children? 

A The economy depends on it 

Q Why are you locating a hazardous waste facility in the middle of a water supply? 

A Our assessments are always correct

Ignoratio elenchi is the general heading under which Chief Andrea Paul’s excellent essay “A message from Chief Andrea Paul: The forever argument of economy and jobs” falls.

It is possible, even for bureaucrats, to hold two thoughts at once.  Dr. Strang’s answer to my original question should have been:

A My job is to protect everyones health.  How did I miss this? Let’s work together to make it happen.

In dealing with government, it’s important to persist with the question and not to be distracted by irrelevant answers.  It can be disheartening to learn just how self-serving and narrow-minded bureaucrats can be, but don’t give up.

Hey Environment Minister!  It’s about my health! Just do your job!

Warren (Gus) Reed writes about accessibility issues on the website of the James McGregor Stewart Society.

See also: Victory for wheelchair users in human rights case, and another embarrassment for the Nova Scotia Human Rights Commission

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