Editorial Cartoon by Graeme MacKay, The Hamilton Spectator – Saturday May 8, 2021
What’s really behind Ontario’s anti-lockdown groups that stand up for small businesses
The websites and social media accounts of prominent COVID-19 anti-lockdown groups in Ontario will offer visitors a similar experience: powerful messages, heartfelt testimonials and a sense of solidarity.
Many of these groups position themselves as allies to small businesses that are struggling to stay afloat amid the lockdowns imposed by the Ontario government.
But in addition to protesting government-imposed lockdowns, these groups tend to have a general “flavour to anti-government and anti-public health messages,” which can be dangerous, University of Toronto professor Roy Gillis said. Gillis leads a research team studying misinformation related to COVID-19.
Gillis said, often, anti-lockdown groups will have hidden political agendas they are trying to accomplish and will use information that may contain “a kernel of truth” to play into people’s fears and beliefs and convince them that government groups and public health officials are trying to limit their rights and control them.
“Particularly in pandemic situations when there’s a lot of fear, when there’s a lot of mistrust, when people are looking for someone to blame, to hold somebody accountable, these groups, these beliefs become easy targets,” Gillis added.
The Line Canada, is one example of many Canada-wide groups that protest the lockdown in Ontario. Despite The Line’s insistence that it is not affiliated with the anti-vaccine or antimask movements, the group’s social media accounts regularly share these types of messages.
In one recent post to Twitter, the group implies that vaccines — not the virus — is what is causing increases in COVID-19 cases and deaths.
The post refers to a BBC article about Chile’s COVID-19 case numbers rising, despite the country’s successful vaccine rollout plan. The story’s sources state a number of likely causes, including SARS-CoV-2 variants and health authorities’ decision to loosen restrictions too early.
There is no mention in the article that the vaccine is responsible for cases or deaths. As stated by Health Canada, “the vaccines cannot give you COVID-19 because they don’t contain the virus that causes it.”
Anatoliy Gruzd, the director of research at Ryerson Social Media Lab, who is also leading a COVID-19 Misinformation Rapid Response Project, said another factor that contributes to people’s likeliness to believe misinformation is uncertainty created by government officials on certain topics.
He cited the example of medical experts and government officials being initially skeptical about mask wearing, prior to deeming it effective and eventually mandating it.
As a result, “any new messages on that topic will be looked at with some suspicion by certain groups who generally do not trust government guidelines anyway.”
This suspicion is demonstrated in antimask content posted by Action4Canada, another group that protests COVID-19 measures in Ontario and across Canada.
In an email statement, Action4Canada’s founder Tanya Gaw said, “we provide evidence and fact-based material from experts around the world.”
On the group’s page about masks, the group posts a quote and link from the CDC that connects to a study that used data from 1946 to July 27, 2018 to conclude that researchers “found no significant reduction in influenza transmission with the use of face masks.”
This study was not related to COVID-19.
More recent reports from CDC, which are not included on Action4Canada’s website, back the use of face masks in preventing the spread of COVID-19.
Gruzd said though it may appear that groups protesting government measures and lockdowns are backed by many people, they are rather supported by a small but vocal minority of like-minded people. (Brampton Guardian)