The top health officials co-ordinating Canada’s COVID-19 response say the majority of public reaction to their work has been positive — but they’ve also received some abusive feedback that ranges from “well-thought-out insults” to “death threats.”
“I’ve got a lot of positive responses, but there are many people who don’t like what I do, or don’t like the way I say it or don’t like my shoes and feel quite able to send me nasty notes, to leave phone calls, to harass my office staff,” said Dr. Bonnie Henry, British Columbia’s top doctor, speaking Tuesday.
“I’ve had to have security in my house, I’ve had death threats,” she added.
Her comment made headlines after she revealed the death threats she’d been facing — and it prompted reporters to quiz other health officials about how they’ve been treated by the public.
While the other public health officers did not report death threats, they said they had been on the receiving end of some abuse.
Dr. Heather Morrison, who serves as the top doctor in P.E.I., said she’s received a small amount of feedback that’s been frightening.
“Overwhelmingly, it’s been so wonderful,” Morrison told CTV News in an interview.
However, she conceded that “there have been threats, at times.”
“It makes me concerned for my family, and my children, and my staff,” Morrison said.
While some doctors, such as Henry and Morrison, reported outright threats, others said that while they hadn’t faced any threats, there had been a heaping of criticism levelled towards them.
“Dr. Hinshaw has received a wide range of correspondence from Albertans,” said a spokesperson for Alberta’s Chief Medical Officer of Health, Dr. Deena Hinshaw.
“While this includes strong personal and professional criticisms, she has not received death threats or hate mail to date.”
Newfoundland and Labrador’s top doctor, Dr. Janice Fitzgerald, said in her Wednesday press conference that it’s “unfortunate” people feel public servants “deserve to be the target of such harassment.”
“In the Public Health Division we’ve had our share of emails that aren’t necessarily in agreement with some of the things that we have done, but you know, we have to accept that as part of the job I guess,” she added.
Toronto’s medical officer of health, Dr. Eileen de Villa, said in her own Wednesday press conference that she has also been on the receiving end of insults — but no threats.
“I haven’t had any threats. I’ve had some very-well-thought-out insults sent my way, but for the most part, no, no threats,” she said.
RESEARCH POINTS TO WOMEN FACING MORE CRITICISM ONLINE
At least one study indicates that the numbers reflect what these doctors are describing — and may point to a gender divide in the negative feedback they face.
Erin Kelly is the CEO of Advanced Symbolics Inc., which uses Artificial Intelligence for human behaviour research. She studied the feedback these public health officer face using a randomized, controlled sample of 270,000 Canadians taken from Twitter.
Kelly said the randomized, controlled sample she studied was taken from Twitter between October 1, 2019 to September 22, 2020. She said her results had a margin of error of +/- 1 per cent, with a 95-per-cent confidence interval 19 times out of 20.
She said they found, overall, discussion about Canada’s Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Theresa Tam and Bonnie Henry was “well in excess of 80 per cent positive, so overall Canadians feel they’re doing a good job.”
“However, we have seen for some of them like Bonnie Henry, feelings about her have been on the decline since about April, and especially since July, that contestations questioning her competence have been increasing,” Kelly said.
She added that roughly a quarter of the discussions about Tam were what she would “classify as racist.”
“But the bigger picture that we see is a gender bias in how public health officials are being perceived,” Kelley said.
She explained that where there are negative comments directed at public health officials, “it comes overwhelmingly from men.”
She said that when this was compared to the comments Ontario’s Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. David Williams faces, “the comments from men were overwhelmingly positive.”
“So it’s not as though they’re always negative about public health officials generally, it seems to be splitting along gender lines,” Kelly said.
When asked about this gender difference, Alberta’s top doctor said it would be “difficult” to compare what she’s experienced with the feelings among her colleagues.
“It’s not something I’ve discussed with my male colleagues across the country so that might be something of interest to find out if they’re experiencing some similar frustrations,” Hinshaw said.
“I think it is quite understandable that people do feel angry, it’s just really important that, if people are feeling angry, that they frame their concerns in a respectful way…whether people in leadership are women or men.”
Things fall apart in the United States — and Canada takes a hard look in the mirror – CBC.ca
John Turner, who passed away in September, was particularly fond of a phrase that could stand now as an abiding lesson for everyone who has watched the chaotic last four years of the American experiment.
“Democracy,” the former prime minister used to say, “does not happen by accident.”
He seemed to have meant that as a call for democratic and political participation. It works equally as well as a broader statement on democracy itself and the steady progress it’s supposed to facilitate — neither of which can be taken as automatic or inevitable.
“America is no fragile thing,” former president Barack Obama said nearly four years ago as he prepared to leave the White House. “But the gains of our long journey to freedom are not assured.”
The United States has offered the world a demonstration of how things can fall apart — not in one cataclysmic moment, but slowly and steadily over a long period of time as institutions and ideas erode and crumble.
Every other country on earth has to deal with the ramifications of what’s happening now in the U.S. But beyond those consequences, there’s another question for every other democracy: how do you make sure your own country doesn’t end up like that?
An age of optimism ends
Everything was not all right for the United States before 2016 — but it was easier to take a great many things for granted. “Until recently, we Americans had convinced ourselves that there was nothing in the future but more of the same,” the American historian Timothy Snyder wrote in On Tyranny. “We allowed ourselves to accept the politics of inevitability, the sense that history could move in only one direction: toward liberal democracy.”
Four years later, the United States is a global symbol of political and state dysfunction, “constitutional hardball,” corruption, misinformation, tribalism, racism, nationalism, conspiracy theories, falsehood, distrust and civil unrest.
In the past six months, more than 225,000 Americans have died of a contagious disease — at least in part because their government could not be roused to properly confront it — and the governing party’s members and supporters were not willing to abandon it in response.
Now, at the conclusion of another presidential election campaign, the ability of the United States to fulfil even the basic requirements of democracy — free and fair elections and a peaceful transfer of power — is in doubt. “Democracy is on the ballot in this election,” Harvard political scientist Pippa Norris recently said.
How did it come to this? There’s no shortage of possible explanations. Legislative gridlock. A poorly designed electoral system. A lack of regulation over the use of money in political campaigns. The treatment of politics as entertainment or sport. The weakening of mainstream media and the rise of partisan outlets and social media. A failure of major media outlets to properly grasp or respond to the challenges of the moment. Maybe even a national history of conflict.
Norris has argued that populist authoritarianism has been on the rise around the world because of “a cultural backlash in Western societies against long-term, ongoing social change.” In other words, those who fear losing power or being left behind have turned to leaders who speak to their grievances.
The four horsemen of a political apocalypse
In their book Four Threats, political scientists Suzanne Mettler and Robert C. Lieberman point to four broad issues that have defined every moment of crisis in the history of American democracy: political polarization; conflict over social belonging and political status along lines of race, gender, nationality or religion; high and growing economic inequality which spurs the wealthy to protect their own interests; and excessive executive power. Only now, they argue, have all four of those threats been active at the same time.
There are reasons to believe the Canadian democratic system is better designed and more durable than that of the United States. But no system is foolproof — and centralization of executive power and the overbearing nature of party discipline are longstanding concerns in Canada.
It’s not obvious that our institutions and media would respond effectively to a populist authoritarian leading one of the country’s major political parties and trampling democratic norms and rules at will. For that matter, it’s fair to ask how well our political system has responded to challenges over the past decade — everything from aggressive parliamentary tactics like prorogation and omnibus legislation to policies that specifically target immigrants and ethnic minorities.
If public cynicism is a concern, there was some solace in survey results released this week by the Samara Centre for Democracy — which found that 80 per cent of Canadians are satisfied with the state of democracy in this country. But significant skepticism remains: 63 per cent of those surveyed agreed that the “government doesn’t care what people like me think,” while 70 per cent said that “those elected to Parliament soon lose touch with the people.”
Canada is not necessarily immune to any of the forces that might be driving what has happened to the United States, including polarization.
As Mettler and Lieberman write, differences across political parties can be good and healthy. There’s a downside to fetishizing centrism or bi-partisanship. But the system can start to break down when politicians and citizens view each other as enemies rather than rivals.
“We are so locked into our political identities that there is virtually no candidate, no information, no condition that can force us to change our minds,” American journalist Ezra Klein wrote in Why We’re Polarized. “We will justify almost anything or anyone so long as it helps our side, and the result is a politics devoid of guardrails, standards, persuasion, or accountability.”
There is evidence that Canada’s federal parties and their supporters have polarized — though not to the same degree as in the United States. “As our political parties have become more ideologically distinct, their strongest partisans have tended to feel more distant from each other,” a team of researchers reported last fall.
Canadians themselves have not become more extreme in their beliefs, said Eric Merkley, a researcher at the University of Toronto — but the ideological beliefs of party supporters are now more distinct and partisans in Canada increasingly dislike those on the other side of the fence.
Americans still register higher levels of discomfort with the idea of a close association — like an in-law — being a supporter of the other party. One other possible difference, Merkley suggested, is that the social identities of Canadians — such as race and religion —are not nearly as aligned with political identity as they are for Americans. It’s also possible that American institutions are “not as capable of dealing with polarized parties” as those in other systems, such as the Westminster parliamentary model in Canada, Merkley added.
When ideology meets regional alienation
Merkley said he’s not worried yet about polarization in Canada — in some ways, it only makes sense that partisan sorting has occurred — but it is still something to keep an eye on.
In the Canadian context, stark political differences might manifest as threats to national unity — like the current split between Conservative voters in the Prairies and progressive voters elsewhere.
Consider the not-unrelated debate over climate change, which still threatens to be less about how to solve the problem than whether to even try. The challenge of transitioning to a low-carbon economy while holding the country together remains profound.
Canadian politics still seems downright placid in comparison with the United States. But the evolution of fundraising techniques and social media have also put a premium on inflaming passions and resentment to drive dollars and clicks. That sort of trend does not foretell a crisis, but it’s also not perfectly benign.
There are other reasons to worry as well. A study released by the University of British Columbia’s Centre for the Study of Democratic Institutions this week found that, out of a sample of a million tweets sent to candidates during the last federal election, 16 per cent could be classified as “abusive.” Concerns about the safety of MPs and their staff were raised even before a Canadian Armed Forces reservist crashed through the gate at Rideau Hall and allegedly threatened the prime minister.
Are we forgetting how to disagree?
Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt, authors of How Democracies Die, have argued that democracy depends on the acceptance of two basic norms: “mutual toleration” and “forbearance.” Mutual toleration requires an acceptance that one’s political rivals are legitimate. Forbearance means that leaders will practice “self-restraint in the exercise of power” — that they will not abuse their authority to do everything they might legally do because of the real and lasting damage that could follow.
In that respect, political leaders should be regarded as stewards of the political process itself. The very fragility of democracy should impose a duty of care.
“We cannot take it for granted that democratic politics will endure if we do not pay careful attention to the democracy-enhancing (or democracy-eroding) consequences of the things we do in politics,” Mettler and Lieberman write.
American politics is Canada’s second-favourite spectator sport. And we have long defined and measured ourselves by how unlike the United States we are. Though the term fell out of use during the Obama era, it used to be that accusing someone of participating in “American-style politics” was a grievous charge in Canada.
That oppositional tendency might serve Canada well now. But this is hardly the time for anyone to feel smug. The United States is reminding us now that nothing is guaranteed, nothing can be taken for granted.
Democracy can be silly and entertaining and a wonder to behold. But it is not a game.
Travel restrictions eased for remote communities along Canada-U.S. border – CBC.ca
The federal government has relaxed travel restrictions, allowing people in remote communities along the Canada-U.S. border to access the necessities of life — including food and medical services — and allowing cross-border students to attend school.
The communities of Stewart, B.C., home to about 400 residents, and Hyder, Alaska, which has a population of 63, are about three kilometres apart.
Residents and local politicians have been asking for the border to be reopened since the travel restrictions went into effect on March 21 in an effort to limit the spread of COVID-19.
On Friday, Bill Blair, Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness, gave them the news they’ve been waiting to hear.
Under the new adjusted rules, the statement reads: “residents of Campobello Island, New Brunswick; Stewart, British Columbia; Northwest Angle, Minnesota; and Hyder, Alaska will be exempt from mandatory 14-day quarantine only to access the necessities of life (e.g., food, medical services) from the nearest Canadian or American community.”
Blair noted the changes, which come into effect Saturday, will allow students (and one driver) to cross the border to go to school and they also allow children who are part of a shared custody arrangement to be exempt from the quarantine period, along with a parent.
“The limited and practical changes will continue to protect Canadians’ health and safety while removing hardships for children and for residents in remote communities impacted by the border restrictions.”
Relief in the communities
People living in Hyder and Stewart have been calling for changes to travel restrictions for months.
The President of the Hyder Community Association, Wes Loe, said people in the community are relieved, especially children who can now see their friends and attend school.
“Stewart and Hyder, it’s like one community with a border in between. We celebrate weddings. We celebrate births. It’s one community, then all of a sudden seven and a half months ago they put a wall there.”
Loe said the rule change is what residents in the remote communities needed.
“It’s a good feeling in the community. It’s a positive feeling.”
Kelowna reports largest crime rate increase in Canada in 2019 – CBC.ca
A new Statistics Canada study on police-reported crime data from 2019 shows Kelowna with the fastest growing crime rate in Canada.
Crime increased by 24 per cent, compared to 2018, according to StatsCan. The violent crime rate increased 65 per cent. And the crime severity Index — a measurement of the volume and severity of crime — rose 20 per cent, which is also more than any other city in Canada.
The Kelowna census metropolitan area’s crime rate is now 10,747 incidents per 100,000 residents, the second highest overall in Canada, just behind Lethbridge, Alta.
The national average is 5,874 per 100,000 residents.
The central Okanagan city’s metropolitan area for census purposes includes the cities of Kelowna, West Kelowna, Peachland, Lake Country and their surrounding rural areas.
Police-reported <a href=”https://twitter.com/hashtag/crime?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw”>#crime</a> in Canada, as measured by the Crime Severity Index, rose 5% in the year prior to the pandemic—from 75.6 in 2018 to 79.5 in 2019. Learn more here: <a href=”https://t.co/y2tEeom4X0″>https://t.co/y2tEeom4X0</a> <a href=”https://t.co/hxb0AXQEcj”>pic.twitter.com/hxb0AXQEcj</a>
Statistics Canada notes one reason for the crime rate increase, especially in violent crimes, was the new Kelowna RCMP reporting method.
In 2018, the detachment faced public criticism over its handling of sexual assault cases. Statistics Canada revealed 40 per cent of sexual assault cases reported to Kelowna RCMP were dismissed as “unfounded” — three times the national average.
A national RCMP sexual assault review team investigated and recently determined that there was an underlying clerical error in how the cases were being classified that skewed the statistics.
Even so, the national team wound up recommending Kelowna RCMP reinvestigate 12 of the cases it had closed.
The 2019 StatsCan report also shows increases in robbery, car theft, mischief, uttering threats and shoplifting.
According to the report, Kelowna also has the highest rate of opioid-related offences in Canada, at 124 per 100,000 people, compared to 35 in Vancouver.
‘Communities remain extremely safe,’ say RCMP
RCMP Supt. Kara Triance, the new commander of the Kelowna detachment, responded to the new statistics in a written statement, blaming much of the increase in the overall crime rate on non-violent property crimes and a transient population.
“We recognize that this ranking appears concerning, but I would like to stress that Kelowna and the surrounding communities remain extremely safe,” Triance stated.
“Kelowna is also a resort destination during the summer with a significant increase in visitor population. While that number is not reflected in our population statistics, it does affect reported crime.”
Kelowna Mayor Colin Basran also noted the increase in non-violent crime and called for more co-ordination and provincial support to tackle the problem.
“We work with RCMP every day to address criminal behaviour, but we need senior levels of government to address the underlying problems of health, housing and poverty that contribute to these downstream issues,” Basran stated. “RCMP need support from other agencies to deal with repeat offenders.”
Since 2015, the city has approved funding for 34 new full-time RCMP officers and 23 police safety support staff.
The detachment has increased patrols on Friday and Saturday nights and bolstered investigative support teams involved in complex crimes.
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