By Peter Smith
Canadian Anti-Hate Network
The plan in Hamilton, Ontario to get vaccines to BIPOC residents that have been disproportionately impacted by COVID-19 has become the target of a wave of online harassment after several prominent hate-promoting accounts and far-right trolls pushed out criticism of the campaign to their followers.
Announced on April 25, the city’s plan is to increase vaccine accessibility to those who are disproportionately impacted by the coronavirus. To accomplish this, Hamilton Public Health Services is prioritizing Black and other racialized populations, beginning with serving those ages 18+ who live within specific regions.
“While COVID-19 vaccine supply is limited, it remains crucial that the limited supply is targeted to those most at-risk to make the biggest possible impact,” the city wrote in a release. “From social and demographic data collected by Hamilton Public Health Services, nearly half of all COVID-19 cases in Hamilton (47%) self-identify as a member of a racialized community but racialized people make up less than a quarter (19%) of Hamilton’s total population.”
As the statement was published to the city’s social media page, however, a collection of trolls and far-right influencers took up the cause and added their unique medical expertise to the problem.
“Why is it not available for Whites?” asked Ian Miles Cheong in a Tweet. Cheong is a notorious internet troll and far-right provocateur based out of Malaysia. While once referring to himself as a “turbofeminist,” during the Gamergate controversy, he’s since become a prominent troll of progressive and left-wing issues and figures.
Cheong’s stunning medical commentary aside, other more overt figures from the further right on the spectrum weighed in as well.
“Thank you for doing your part to protect white people- a global minority- from the terrible health consequences of the vaccines, especially infertility, ” wrote white nationalist musician Cat Weiss, one half of the band Uberfolk, with the Canadian former RaHoWa (Racial Holy War) frontman and still neo-Nazi George Burdi.
"POC are being affected by covid because of racist White people and systemic racism," wrote Lana Lokteff, of the white nationalist podcast RedIce, “so the answer is institutional racism against Whites.
“It's all junk, vaccine too.”
Her outrage lives alongside another tweet from November 2020 that “all the people that voted for Biden” should take the vaccine first, and shares of other posts accusing parents that vaccinate their children of child abuse.
Therein lies the most confusing aspect of the entire affair. While a few figures like Cheong might encourage others to get vaccinated to end lockdowns sooner, other accounts aligned with Lokteff and echoed distrust for the vaccine, while simultaneously agreeing that the denial of service to white people is the real racism.
“Correct me if I'm wrong, but isn't discrimination based on race illegal in Canada?” asked former InfoWars editor and far-right vlogger Paul Joseph Watson. Again, this statement lives without a hint of irony alongside repeated condemnation of the concept of vaccine passports.
Other less prominent accounts joined in as well.
“This is pretty much the textbook definition of racism. You are truly vile,” one quote tweet read.
“This country is doomed,” said another.
The comments rolled on consistently. "Oh, we can't provide you any treatments. You're white, and the current government policy is to eradicate whites," wrote one member, his account filled with messages about Jewish control of the government and the eradication of white people.
The key factor that the hundreds of comments and retweets ignore is both the moral and public health reasoning for these types of targeted programs. The pandemic does not discriminate, but the conditions that lead to exposure are firmly rooted in racism and inequity.
“Race doesn’t put you at higher risk. Racism puts you at higher risk,” physician Camara Phyllis Jones told Scientific American in an interview. She added that everything from chronic disease to education can have a massive impact on health outcomes.
“We are more exposed because of the kinds of jobs that we have: the frontline jobs of home health aids, postal workers, warehouse workers, meat packers, hospital orderlies. And those frontline jobs—which, for a long time, have been invisibilized and undervalued in terms of the pay—are now being categorized as essential work.”
Data from across the country has consistently confirmed that this is how the pandemic is playing out in Canada, especially for members of the Black community.
According to SickKids, data from multiple countries including the United States, United Kingdom and Canada indicates a “disproportionate number of individuals of African ancestry are contracting SARS-CoV-2 and afflicted with more severe COVID-19 than people of other races.” The hospital will be studying the health crisis for more information.
Specifically, in the country’s largest city, despite making up nine per cent of the total population, Black people account for 21 per cent of all reported cases of COVID-19. Study of ethno and racial data found that while making up four per cent of the city’s population, Arab, Middle Eastern and West Asian people represent 11 per cent of the city's COVID-19 cases.
The same study found that white people and East Asians are underrepresented compared to the size of those populations.
People of colour make up 71 per cent of those hospitalized with COVID-19.
Hamilton Public Health Services said it is working closely with Black and other racialized community leaders to determine how best to provide vaccines to community members across Hamilton.
“Over the last few weeks, as experienced by public health units across Ontario, Hamilton’s COVID-19 Hotline staff are increasingly being faced with disrespectful and abusive behaviour,” the city said in a response to a request for comment, adding that these issues have been faced by all staff members, not just related to one program.
“As part of this, abusive and disrespectful behaviour of staff will not be tolerated and those calls will be terminated. We appreciate that community members are feeling fatigued about the pandemic and are very anxious about gaining access to COVID-19 vaccines, however, we are asking for people to be kind and respectful to people doing their jobs under very difficult circumstances.
“Like everyone, they have been working long hours since the beginning of the pandemic - often too balancing their own personal challenges at home with families, sick loved ones, remote learning with children etc. and deserve to be treated with dignity in their workplace.”