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A meeting of Ottawa’s public school trustees came to an unceremonious close before voting on a motion on Tuesday, after breaking down into yelling and heckling and two people were escorted out by security and police.
The meeting was held to discuss and determine if the Ottawa-Carleton School Board can or should issue mask mandates within its school. In response, a crowd of parents and the public practice filled the aisles. Many could be heard audibly shouting, cheering, or making comments as delegates presented.
Starting on Thursday evening, and quickly moving into delegates' comments, Board Chair Lyra Evans repeatedly reminded participants not to talk over the presentations of others. Several medical professionals and parents who supported the mandates spoke, as did parents who opposed the motion.
Footage of the crowd from the recent school board meeting, taken by Ottawa Citizen Jacquie Miller, shows some of the disruptions. In one instance, a man is shown attempting to deliver a cardboard box he says is filled with “notices of liability.” Throughout the pandemic, organizations like Action4Canada have circulated similar documents, claiming they are the first step in bringing legal action against health restrictions.
The event was held after newly elected trustee Dr. Nili Kaplan-Myrth asked for an emergency meeting to debate if teachers, staff, and students will be required to wear masks while attending schools within the district. Before her election, Kaplan-Myrth became the target of antisemitic harassment for her advocacy as a doctor for vaccines and an appearance on TVO. Streaming into the news program from her office, she wore a mask, a practice she says is necessary as she would receive multiple patients in the same space, often close together.
The night also included a presentation from an epidemiologist who pointed to a lack of evidence around there being any harm caused by short and long-term wearing of masks and studies demonstrating the efficacy of mask-wearing in a variety of environments.
The head of Ottawa’s children’s hospital, CHEO, appeared via streaming video to provide an overview of the current situation in the hospitals. The institution is overwhelmed with cases of respiratory illness, despite the addition of a new clinic
“Yesterday, our intensive care unit, which is where the sickest children need to be to get their care, such as those who need help and support with their breathing, was at 200% occupancy,” Dr. Lindy Samson told the trustees.
The meeting echoes statements from Ontario’s Chief Medical Officer of Health which strongly recommends a return to masking in indoor public settings to combat the “triple threat” of COVID-19, respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), and influenza.
Samson’s presentation was stopped as audience members began shouting. Evans was heard asking security to escort individuals out of the meeting. After a break, Samson finished her presentation.
A Facebook group that appears to be organizing some of the opposition together in Ottawa has multiple moderators and members who boasted about attending the meeting in person, many of whom have posted videos from the event.
As noted on Twitter by Press Progress editor Luke LeBrun, the group includes the suggestion from its administrator that members should record videos inside of CHEO to “show there is no issue. They have been lying about hospital information since the beginning.”
The trustees voted to end the meeting at 10:30, pushing the vote on the motion to a later date. It has since been rescheduled online. The same Facebook group is asking its members to sign up to delegate and attend the virtual meeting.
Boards Increasingly Targeted
After running candidates in school board trustee elections, with both notable successes and losses in some regions, the far-right is taking a distinct interest in Canada’s school boards. During the election, issues related to keeping “critical race theory,” “gender ideology,” and any policies perceived as progressive or “woke” out of education.
While the doctors and scientists who spoke during the meeting attempted to point to data showing the usefulness of masks, as well as reiterating that any mandate would be temporary, many acknowledged that the issue of masking continues to be politicized, making the issue not about science but rather ideology and politics.
Criticism of public health policy and motions proposed by trustees are useful and needed aspects of participating in a democracy. However, the belief by many entrenched in conspiratorial worldviews that the pandemic was created as theatre to institute systems of control makes meaningful engagement with the facts difficult, if not impossible.
Closer to home, last week, an Oakville, Ontario, school at the centre of a controversy over a transgender teacher wearing an oversized breast prosthesis with protruding nipples, received multiple bomb threats. Previously, the same school was the subject of a massive amount of media reporting around the teacher’s attire and its appropriateness.
The targeting of school boards is not a phenomenon confined to the north either.
In the United States, numerous school board meetings have been disrupted by agitators, including to oppose masking mandates for children. Footage from these school board meetings throughout the pandemic shows similar complaints as heard in Canada that include allegations of masking damaging children’s physical and mental health. Other American board meetings have included hecklers opposing 2SLGBT+ education and broad allegations about instruction on critical race theory being taught in elementary schools.