Canadian Anti-Hate Network
Every province and territory in Canada has responded differently to the COVID-19 pandemic. Some provinces instituted strong public health measures, while others took a more relaxed approach. Canadians have reacted similarly, with varied reactions during the ups and downs of four waves of pandemic-related fears, hopes, and fatigue.
In Nova Scotia, we have had relative success in navigating the various waves of the pandemic. We continue to have very robust public health measures which most Nova Scotians generally agree with. We also have high vaccination rates and fairly low COVID-19 case numbers. Overall, our response has received extensive praise throughout the course of the pandemic from both local and national leaders and physicians.
In particular, Nova Scotia’s Chief Medical Officer of Health, Dr. Robert Strang, has been widely lauded for his leadership over the last 20 months.
Yet despite these critical successes, the COVID conspiracy crowd -- which has been particularly virulent in other parts of the country -- has become more active and organized in Nova Scotia in recent months. One group, Freedom Nova Scotia, has organized regular protests in downtown Halifax to oppose the provincial state of emergency, as well as mask and vaccine mandates. A Halifax hospital saw a protest organized by Canadian Frontline Nurses -- one of the nationwide protests organized by the group in mid-September.
It is the conversations in the online space that are the most concerning. Since before the pandemic, online discourse has deteriorated from legitimate criticism of public health measures to disturbing comments that have crossed the line into potential violence -- particularly against government officials. The issue has become so extreme, so widespread, that it is now considered a national security threat, with Global News reporting an “unprecedented” spike in these extremist narratives.
Examples abound, from the calls to execute politicians, particularly Justin Trudeau -- and an actual assault against the Prime Minister committed by a white nationalist -- to similarly disturbing calls for violence against officials and healthcare workers across Canada.
One recent example is the private Facebook group “Scotia Mass Against the Pass,” which was formed in August 2021 to oppose Nova Scotia’s requirement to show proof of vaccination to attend various public events and spaces. When reached for comment a Facebook representative said the company had reviewed the group and removed content. The group now appears to be set to private.
The group boasts over 19,000 members.
One post in the group reads as follows: “Short and logical. What would you ask Dr. Strang if you had his attention?”
The post has so far received over 500 comments, several of which openly threaten violence towards Dr. Strang.
Some comments were as simple as, “Head or gut?”
Others, including one that involved an alleged in-person sighting of the public health official.
“I was visiting our daughters who live in Halifax and Dartmouth, during the summer, we were enjoying our time at the waterfront, and who comes strolling by but Strang himself, accompanied by his family,” one user wrote. “My family had to hold me back. My blood boiled when I saw him, Oh how I wanted to say so much!”
In response, a user said, “should have pushed him in the harbour.”
Other threatening comments pepper the thread.
“Where do you want it? Head or chest.”
“When does your security team go on vacation?”
“Would you mind putting this plastic bag over your head?”
Other threats were as simple as “Any last words?” and the cryptic “Judgement is coming.”
One comment took aim at Strang’s country of origin, Zimbabwe. He “should have been sterilized,” they wrote. “Sure is a piece of scum.”
Another post references the now all too common theme of drawing parallels between the Holocaust and public health measures.
“I would ask if he is related to Hitler because he’s similar in character and if he enjoys the benefits of being a lier [sic] more than saving lives he should move on.”
Antisemitism has been part of the Canadian anti-lockdown scene since the beginning, with many protest participants exposing conspiracy theories that centre notions of outsized Jewish influence on global events. Others have taken to wearing the Star of David armbands or stickers at events, selling merchandise with the Star of David repurposed for people who refuse to be vaccinated, and pushing the idea that the unvaccinated are facing similar treatment to members of the Jewish community during the Shoah.
This includes anti-lockdown organizers participating in a mock Nazi book burning, complete with Roman salutes. Recently, a man dressed as a concentration camp prisoner attended an anti-lockdown event in Ontario.
A different post in the Facebook group invokes the same type of antisemitism by drawing connections between public health measures imposed by Dr. Strang and the Nuremberg Code, a set of ethics developed to address research guidelines after the Nazis were found to have engaged in horrific human experimentation.
The Nuremberg Code and Trials are regularly invoked by opponents of health measures.
What follows are dozens of violent fantasies and threats.
One user comments “#hangstrang,” while another says “Off with his head!”
Yet more comments reference hanging and drowning the official, and call him a “predator of children.”
“They should all be held accountable under the Nuremberg Code!” a member writes.
A response to this comment reads, “only way they’ll ever be held accountable is if we get off our arses and take them down by force. But we’ll likely end up like WW2 Jews through complacency.”
Most of the broad media coverage regarding Nova Scotia’s COVID-19 response has been positive. There has also been attention paid to those who oppose the public health measures, but it does not generally focus on the more extremist viewpoints.
Some will suggest that it is a good thing, and it is indeed valid to consider not giving any attention to the more dangerous members of the anti-health restriction, anti-vaccine community. However, when their commentary crosses the line into calls for violence, it can no longer be ignored.
Letting it go and sweeping it under the rug is not an option.
Alex Kronstein is a freelance writer in Dartmouth, Nova Scotia. Follow Alex on Twitter @AlexKronstein.
This Story has been updated to include comment from Facebook.