While vaccines and mask policies are viewed favorably by most Canadians, the vocal minority who oppose them are a growing threat — not only to public health, but to public safety and even democracy itself.

Leading up to the election, anti-vaccine protests drew angry, unruly crowds outside hospitals and other health care facilities across Canada, blocking patients and employees trying to access the buildings, and in at least one instance, forcing cancer patients to get out of cars and walk through the unmasked mob. Protesters have reportedly verbally and physically assaulted health care workers, while others have used social media to issue threats of violence against doctors and nurses.

Last month, anti-vaccine protesters showed up at the home of an Ontario education minister and, upon learning that he wasn’t there, decided to harass his neighbors instead. On the campaign trail, Trudeau has been tracked by angry crowds of anti-vaxxers shouting profanities and making Nazi references. Less than two weeks after security concerns forced him to cancel a rally in Ontario, Trudeau was hit with gravel thrown by an anti-vaccine protester at one of his campaign events.

With election day near, Canada’s anti-vaccine movement is more active — and more angry — than ever, and some extremism experts are worried about what will happen when the protesters no longer have an election to direct their outrage towards.

“They’re going to be trouble for some time,” Kurt Phillips, board member of the Canadian Anti-Hate Network and founder of Anti-Racist Canada, told Canada’s National Observer. “The rage that exists in the movement — I don’t know where that goes [after the election]. It could explode.”

Nonetheless, possibly the first time ever in Canada, and certainly the first time in recent history, vaccination has taken the center stage as a major campaign issue in the federal election.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau invoked the pandemic when he announced the election in August, saying voters deserve to have a say in who leads the country during its recovery from COVID-19. While mask requirements, vaccine mandates, and other restrictions are already in place, Trudeau promised to pursue an aggressive strategy to combat COVID if the Liberal government remains in power, and criticized his opponent, Conservative leader Erin O’Toole, for opposing vaccine mandates. In August, Trudeau pledged a billion dollars to help provinces create their own vaccine passport systems — a move that has widespread public support.

From Yellow Vesters to anti-vaxxers

Similar to in the U.S., the anti-vaccine movement in Canada is driven by a multitude of factors, including distrust of the government and other institutions, animosity towards experts and authorities, cultural grievances, rejection of mainstream science, and the creeping influence of extremism in mainstream discourse on the right. Much of the anger and opposition to vaccination is propelled by misinformation and conspiracy theories alleging that vaccines are unsafe, harmful, or part of some sort of plot aimed at establishing a biometric surveillance system or other form of government control.

The anti-vaccine movement has close ties to extremist groups, Christian nationalists, QAnon conspiracy theorists, run of the mill grifters and scam artists, and other right-wing causes like the Yellow Vest movement, which now airs its grievances under the banner of anti-vaccine activism.

“Every single prominent Yellow Vester that I’m aware of is now an anti-vaxxer,” Phillips said.

The anti-vaccine movement has close ties to extremist groups, Christian nationalists, QAnon conspiracy theorists, run of the mill grifters and scam artists, and other right-wing causes like the Yellow Vest movement, writes @RVAwonk

Like the Yellow Vest movement — which saw oil and gas pipeline protest being used as cover for right-wing extremist activity — the anti-vaccine movement has become entangled with far-right extremism as white nationalists and other extremists use the guise of vaccine skepticism to push increasingly extreme conspiracy theories targeting Jews, immigrants, health care workers, and others.

Populism and far-right politics

In modern history, the rise of the anti-vaccine movement and associated nativist, anti-immigrant attitudes has often coincided with waves of far-right populism.

European populist parties like Italy’s Five Star Movement have grown their coalition by raising baseless concerns about vaccine safety and campaigning against vaccine mandates, resulting in decreased childhood vaccination rates and resurgences of diseases like measles. From the start of the pandemic, far-right extremists in Italy have flooded social media with articles blaming migrants for the deadly pandemic, while in Austria and Germany, far-right politicians have used the pandemic to spread conspiracy theories about vaccines and call for crackdowns on immigration. Anti-Semitic vaccine conspiracy theories have also been linked to a rise in hate crimes targeting synagogues and Jewish schools in Switzerland.

The link between populism and anti-vaccine sentiment is apparent in Canada, too. Throughout 2020 and 2021, the People’s Party of Canada (PPC) has capitalized on the grievance-based energy of the anti-vaccine movement to mobilize supporters and draw in new voters. PPC leader Maxime Bernier is a founding member of the "End the Lockdown Caucus" and has made opposition to public health measures such as mask mandates, vaccine passports, and lockdowns — which he calls “tyrannical” and “Orwellian” — a centerpiece of his campaign.

Local PPC candidates have been riding the wave of anti-vaccine anger and, at times, contributing to it.

Mark Friesen, a PPC candidate in Saskatoon-Grasswood who was involved in the Yellow Vest protests, has pivoted to organizing “freedom” rallies in opposition to vaccines and other public health restrictions, and has appeared alongside the Canadian Frontline Nurses, one of the main organizers of the protests. Ron Vaillant, PPC candidate for Calgary Shepard, has repeatedly compared vaccination to Naziism, while fellow PPC candidate Marc Emery suggested in a tweet last week that Trudeau deserves to be executed like Italian fascist dictator Benito Mussolini. He ultimately deleted the tweet at the request of Bernier.

Another PPC candidate, Peter Taras, recently tweeted a picture of a dozen bodies hanging in Nuremberg, Germany, following the Nuremberg trials. Taras implied that the bodies belonged to “members of the media who lied and misled” people “right along with medical doctors and nurses who participated in medical experiments.” He later deleted the tweet and denied that he was suggesting anything violent or threatening in his tweet.

Earlier this month, Anti-Hate Canada identified several people associated with the PPC, along with known white nationalists, at the violent rally where gravel was thrown at Trudeau. Shane Marshall, the riding director for PPC candidate Chelsea Hillier — daughter of No More Lockdowns co-founder Randy Hillier — was reportedly in attendance, as was far-right YouTuber and self-described nationalist Tyler Russell, who leads a fledgling far-right nationalist movement called Canada First.

On social media, anti-vaccine groups are littered with messages encouraging people to vote PPC in the upcoming election, and white nationalist groups like the Canadian Nationalist Front have thrown their support behind Bernier and the PPC. In recent polls, the PPC has reached record-high levels of support, putting the party in a position to potentially have a significant impact on the election.

Anti-vaccine violence

Even if the PPC doesn’t succeed at the ballot box, there are likely to be lasting consequences from the party’s 2021 campaign. The coalition of far-right groups that coalesced during the pandemic now has a political party to legitimize it and give it a voice, which has energized them and may help them form a larger, more organized movement in the future. Regardless of the election outcome, the pandemic will still be here and whoever is leading the country will have to contend with a mobilized, motivated minority of the population that views government and science as threats that need to be eliminated.

Furthermore, although Bernier has avoided explicitly calling for or condoning violence, his incendiary rhetoric — particularly his frequent use of the word “tyranny” to describe the Liberal government — echoes the rhetoric of far-right militias like the Three Percenters and serves as a “dog whistle” to extremists, said Phillips.

To those who truly buy into the far-right narrative, the election isn’t just about who will be the next prime minister. It’s also about fighting back against what they believe to be a malicious, tyrannical government trying to use vaccines and lockdowns to strip away their freedom. With stakes that high, Phillips fears that someone may interpret the PPC’s messaging as a call to do whatever it takes to stop the government from enforcing vaccine mandates, even if it takes violence.

“Most people will hear that [message] and won’t act on it, won’t do anything,” Phillips said. “But at some point, somebody will.”

Graphic by Caroline Orr

That’s exactly what some far-right extremists are hoping for. Messages posted on far-right discussion boards show anonymous users proposing violence as the only solution and talking about leveraging anti-vaccine conspiracy theories to encourage people to commit attacks against vaccine producers.

As recent events have made clear, the threat of violence associated with the anti-vaccine movement isn’t just hypothetical. It’s a problem spreading around the world.

Earlier this month, several U.K. police officers were injured after anti-vaccine protesters tried to storm the building of the health ministry in charge of the country’s vaccination efforts. This came just after the U.K.’s Daily Mail infiltrated a group of 200 anti-vaccine military veterans called Veterans 4 Freedom and found that members were discussing weaponry and plotting attacks on vaccination centers. A week later, police in Italy raided the homes of anti-vaccine activists after discovering that they had been using Telegram to plot violent attacks against members of government and the general public in opposition to vaccine passports. Earlier this year, when the mayor of a town in southwest Poland tried to mandate the COVID-19 vaccine, a mob of anti-vaxxers — some wearing military fatigues — descended on his house, issuing death threats and comparing him to a Nazi. In Belgium, a prominent virologist had to go into hiding in a safe house after receiving threats from a soldier armed with a rocket launcher, a machine gun, body armor, and a pistol.

In the U.S., anti-vaccine protests have led to stabbings and violent attacks against journalists and others. Over the summer, a breast cancer patient in California was sprayed with bear mace and physically assaulted after confronting protesters outside of a health care clinic. And last year, FBI agents shot and killed a Missouri man during a confrontation that took place when agents tried to arrest him in connection with a domestic terror plot. The man, who reportedly expressed racist and anti-government sentiments online, was allegedly planning to detonate a car bomb outside of a hospital, with the goal of causing mass casualties.

The anti-vaccine movement in Canada has direct ties to the far-right groups in the U.S. that are behind these violent protests, as well as other acts of violence and terror like the January 6 insurrection. There are also apparent links between the organizers and leaders of Canada’s anti-vaccine movement and Trump insiders like Steve Bannon and Gen. Michael Flynn, who spent months spreading the very same election conspiracy theories that incited the Capitol riot.

Some far-right figures have already started spreading disinformation in Canada about the election being stolen or rigged and there’s a real possibility that some of these people won’t accept the election outcome as legitimate, just as they don’t accept the science of vaccination as valid.

That’s the new reality we’re dealing with in this post-truth, choose-your-adventure world where sizable swaths of the population have abandoned science, expertise, and knowledge-producing institutions in favor of Google searches and snake oil salesmen. The next leader of Canada, whoever that may be, will not only have to lead the country’s pandemic recovery while navigating a resurgent, potentially violent movement fighting them every step of the way — they’ll also have to figure out how to do it while dealing with segments of society who have given up on the very values that hold society together.


Thank you for this analysis. It's unnerving...I wish that Bernier could be held accountable for the lies that he is spreading.

So disappointed by the lack of objective analytsis. in rhis article that simply spouts propaganda. Exoected more from the NO.

I'd take your comment a wee bit more seriously if it wasn't filled with several spelling errors. That being said, the gist of your comment is ludicrously wrong.

It would be informative for all of us if you pointed out which parts of this article are propaganda, ie: not true. As it stands, you are sounding like a follower of some of the idiocy the NO is describing, by calling what sounds pretty evidence based to me (these events did happen) biased. While we've all heard the line 'reality has a left wing bias'....that isn't a statement of fact, but an observation of how right wing fringe movements believe they can 'disbelieve' whatever they don't want to be true.

Truth operates under more stringent parameters.

Agreed Monika, thank you for speaking up.

It's ENTIRELY objective analysis.
Obviously you don't even know what that phrase means.
You're clearly one of the right-wing people described in the article. You give yourself away with not only your profound inability to reason, but also your inability to even spell.

The vaccines would fall under much less suspicion if they were produced in non-profit facilities associated with Universities. Any casual observer can tell that drug companies maximize profit by managing disease. Left to the beancounters, they will keep raising the price on Insulin until so many diabetics are dying that demand goes down.

While it is likely true that public production of vaccines would be more cost effective, we would have had to go down a different road 40 years ago, to have even our own Connaught Labs still in place. The neoliberal right wing privatized whatever it could......including long term care homes, with the results we've all witnessed.

But lamenting the privatization and free market growth of Big Pharma is something many of us do, proceeding with the fallacy of sweeping generalization and arguing that Big Pharma created, or is 'managing' this pandemic for its personal profit is a half truth at best. We live in the world our choices created....and Big Pharma was all we had in the west to mount the attack on covid. Cuba is different and has its own vaccine products......as does Russia.

The crazy part of these crazies is the simple think, one big Ideology of their 'theories'. We need to bring private pharma under national programs like PharmaCare....as the ndp suggest, but until then, its conspiracy theory to imagine that the vaccine roll out is some kind of evil plot.

Let's all of us speak up against those single small ideas.......that get force fed into Conspiracy Theories from Hell. The Covid is our enemy.......not the many organizations struggling to stop its continued growth, mutation and danger to us all.

Kind of ironic that the anti-vaxxers are in fact the very same people who consistently vote for relentless privatization and greater power for profit-maximizers. If you have a problem with rapacious corporations,

(sorry, interface kicked me out and posted part of my comment. As I was saying,)
If you have a problem with rapacious corporations, VOTE FOR SOCIALISTS AND SOCIAL DEMOCRATS, DAMMIT! How do these people expect doctrinaire hypercapitalists to help them against greedy companies?

Thank you for this welcome analysis. I was shocked, yesterday, to witness a reckless crowd of many thousands of unmasked people asking for "liberty" and "freedom" (what do these words even mean any more?) marching south down Bathurst St and east along College St in Toronto yesterday (Saturday afternoon). No coincidence, I'm sure, that the march occurred on the same day as the Capitol riot supporters marched in Washington. I have never seen a bigger crowd on Toronto's streets for anything -- there were at least 5000 people, probably closer to 10,000. A steady stream of people unaccountably blocking these streets for their selfish cause. The police were evidently taken by surprise, or worse, as they only in the later stages of the march showed up on bicycles, and there was pretty much nothing they could (or would) do, vastly outnumbered as they were. There is no mention of this march in today's media (on CBC or Toronto Star). Why is that? Perhaps to avoid further incitement of irresponsible people. I am glad the National Observer is calling attention to this issue, an American disease of the mind that has spread around the world.

Well said. Thank you for this information. One can't help but wonder if the police would be so late to the party, or so timid in reaction, were this a Black Lives Matter rally.......or even something being led by Antifa. The leeway we give white nationalists says something about us all.....but about our police force???

What happened to the tear gas and rubber bullets?? I assumed they were standard fare.

There have been bigger demonstrations in Toronto; anti-WTO demonstrations were far bigger, probably anti-Iraq-war ones were too. And the police weren't helpless--again, they're prepared to deal violently with big demonstrations, and showed it with the anti-WTO marches. There was surely plenty of advance warning on social media, which the police monitor; if those ten thousand people could find out about it, so could the cops. If they were "surprised" it was because they chose to be. I can only conclude they decided not to do anything because they don't see fascists as a threat. This is normal. The general rule is, violent right wing demonstrations are expressions of free speech to be protected, while peaceful left wing demonstrations are dangerous threats which must be stopped.

I agree with your analysis............and it strengthens my growing respect for the Defund the Police advocates. I was shocked recently to learn that some Vancouver police make a larger salary than social workers with four years of university...........60,000 as opposed to 100,000 seems no small chunk of change for defenders of law and order that likely didn't have to take university courses. But then, the right wing.....law and order, crew are more part of the power elite than most of us likely realize.

I have no doubt that the anti-vaxx/PPC protests are being orchestrated. I would like to know more about who is funding it.

An excellent question. It's past time to follow the money on this one. Privatization buffs are among the mix I suspect.

Very much agreed.

Reading this article I'm reminded of Greta's phrase: "Change is coming, whether you like it or not". The radical right wing fringe obviously don't like it.....

From what I have gleaned from the debates about climate change and the Covid-19 pandemic, Greta's issue is that we as a species are overburdening this Earth's Biosphere by the way advanced societies consume the finite resource base available. Past time to ease up and leave some some for our young and theirs. Nature deals with such excess consumption by all species by throwing up barriers such as diseases, and sustenance availability. If the species fails to adjust to the available environment it dies out. We as a species operate as though we are exempt! History shows we are not! We brought on this pandemic by the way modern societies operate, travelling the globe taking it with us. Europeans did it with their diseases in 1492 or there about, to the Americas and devastated our kind that occupied this space. To the extent we are successful in blunting this pandemic, Nature will add further constraints, until we adjust our cultures to ones that the Biosphere can sustain. Too many taking too much brings on disaster. Any successful cattle rancher knows that., I believe. The anti-vaxers are perhaps a crude push-back from something in our DNA, not realizing they are helping to reduce our population, one of the ways we hope to prolong our and other species existence on this planet.! According to the Global Footprint Network we are fast exhausting our Biosphere inheritance, relying on using an increasing percentage of the finite capital with no way to replace it. Greta is perhaps saying 'Pay attention to that fundamental parameter of life on this planet'.

Yes,

Dear Caroline Orr,
I am appalled at your and your editors' wholesale buyin and amplification of the mainstream official story about the threat of covid and the efficacy and safety of vaccines. No mention of preventative precautions widely shown to be effective, such as Frontline Covid Caregives Coalition has researched. No mention of the lack of safety data due to the EUA rushing these vaccines into service. No mention of the death rates from the vaccines being reported by NHS in England and elsewhere, no mention of alternatives for preventive care like vit D and more.
Liberal, progressive and leftwing news and opinion outlets like NO are abdicating their self-proclaimed mandate to investigate all sides and being co-opted in this case by the establishment agenda which evidently includes passivity among the populace.
See Prof Mark C Miller, Media Relations, New York University on why the virus threat is the extreme example of use of fear and hatred to fuel a propaganda campaign. https://rumble.com/embed/vjmc91/?pub=4
Also Prof Julie Ponesse Prof of Ethics at my alma mater Huron College UWO London ON makes a public statement just before she was fired from her post of 20 yrs for refusing to be vaccinated. https://rumble.com/embed/vjmc91/?pub=4
thank you for listening, Ms Orr
Yours truly,

Thanks for your comment Ian. My sister is a naturopathic doctor and she has been shocked and saddened by the failure of the Canadian governments (at every level) to call for every possible prophylactic and early treatment currently being used by doctors who are following the Hippocratic oath to do no harm. Doctors around the world are begging their governments to support research and use less invasive treatments instead of unilaterally promoting untested (in the long term) gene therapies. Not once has Trudeau talked about healthy lifestyle changes for improving our immune systems. What might’ve happened if in March 2020 Trudeau declared that it’s time for a massive health promotion initiative by the Canadian government? In all this time nothing like that has occurred. We’ve watched Only fearful hand wringing and hoping for a single billionaire-producing remedy.

Moreover, health care providers have been informed that they stand to lose their licences if they question the government’s narrative. Such censorship has never been previously imposed in Canada.

It’s not true that every person who feels uncomfortable with these experimental jabs is a right wing extremist. I know many people who normally vote Liberal, NDP and Green who feel abandoned by their parties with respect to vaccine passports and don’t know how to vote. The PPC is the only party who promises to express their concerns, which is sad.

The media are directly responsible for inflaming an “us vs them” situation. I’m disappointed, Ms. Orr, that you have contributed to this very dangerous situation —and have one question for you: has your article increased or reduced hatred in the world?

Many of us are disappointed that it took so long for the Alberta government to act on restricting anti vaccers from crowded indoor spaces. While your concern for a variety of treatments may be honest, I don't think the evidence on the ground supports your position.

There is much that could be improved about our health care system.....but Canada has far fewer deaths per size of our population than the empire to the south of us. Part of that is due to our willingness to obey social distancing rules, part of that is due to our robust public health care system. And while the deaths of others doesn't seem to compute for some opponents of current vaccine policy, over 27,000 Canadians have now lost their lives to this virus.

The time for a diversity of methods is not during a pandemic; and arguments that vaccines are the threat and not the short term solution are just not borne out by evidence on the ground.

Your concerns about an 'us vs them' situation are trivial, compared to the safety of all Canadians. This morning I went swimming and used the sauna for the first time without worry....a few anti vaccers hollared at the girls monitoring who came into the facility.........but my husband and I had the most relaxing recreation we've enjoyed in nearly 2 years. Because Alberta's 'restriction exemption'( conservative talk for vaccine passports) came into effect today.

We hate no one......but we're sick to death of the know it alls who think they have a better solution to Covid. I suspect we're not alone.

The article focusses exclusively on right-wing resistance to vaccines, masks, and common-sense public health measures. Some commentary on the left-wing variety would be welcome. E.g., Robert F. Kennedy, Jr.
https://www.politico.com/magazine/story/2019/05/08/robert-kennedy-jr-mea...

Otherwise rational (former) Facebook friends who accept climate science unreservedly and call for urgent climate action embrace COVID "scepticism" and conspiracy theories.
We underestimate the influence of the anti-vaxxer narrative at our peril. This movement is not exclusively right-wing.

essicalexicus.medium.com/im-a-teacher-i-m-about-to-quit-f7afd11109dd

And here's a depressing article from a teacher in the United States, about how it could get worse. We should be cognizant of the 'intersectionality' of the anti vaccer movement and the Trumpster folk. It's neither a democratic nor a free speech group.....pretending we 'all need to come together' and accept 'alternative treatment for covid' or 'alternative views of science' is specious, once we understand how intolerant these people can actually be. And how violent.

"That’s the new reality we’re dealing with in this post-truth, choose-your-adventure world where sizable swaths of the population have abandoned science, expertise, and knowledge-producing institutions in favor of Google searches and snake oil salesmen."

How else did anyone think it would turn out, when kids are encouraged to use "inventive spelling," when there's nothing everyone must learn, and no one has to learn anything they don't find entertaining to do, when kids who don't like the assignment hand in something else instead, and are given full marks because they handed *something* in ...

The thing is, a whole lot of people have been on the downside of some of the amazing improvements that science and industry have handed us: improvements shareholders love, and workers find themselves laid off over.

I might put it that sizeable swaths of the population were fed a bogus economic theory, a system that gave a free ride and a lot of cashola to highly damaging industries, so that people without a basic, rounded education could be paid inordinate amounts of money, at the same time as our economic and media systems kept repeating the idea that an individual's worth is not in how much better they made the world or someone's experience of it, but that it's measured in how much someone'll pay for their participation.

Both government policies and processes, and media have together fashioned a very clear picture of "the undeserving" ... and since once unemployed and unemployable they recognize how they're being treated, but angry that they're not being seen in the full glory of their true worth: that measured by their period of greatest income.

They were always told that certain people were undeserving, and they happily scapegoated them. Now that they're in a similar position, it should probably be fairly easy to understand the self-righteous anger.

And given the extent of our education system's basic digital literacy training ... nope. Doesn't exist. We were told it was happening ... but nothing did. So these people can't read distinctions beyond approximate general meanings of headlines. It's not their fault. No one taught them. They think they're reading science, but it's just headline spin.

It's not that difficult: there's usually a link. Click it, and read the abstract. Usually just that makes clear that the study doesn't say what the article claims.

I've helped quite a few people understand the difference, over the past year and a half or so particularly.

There's no point in assuming that everyone doing something that ultimately is neither smart, nor rationable, nor reasonable, is informed by evil intent. It's pretty easy for people with university educations to decide that they put in the time, so should be paid more. It's pretty easy for people with university educations to assume that everyone else has access to the particular skills that to them seem like second nature.

People don't usually get left behind by choice.

Well argued. Unfortunately, the majority of us, educated or not, drank the neoliberal koolaid peddled over 30 years ago..........and now a majority of us are discovering in one way or another, that we were to be among the losers. You're right about how 'blaming the poor' and 'equating worth with income' have contributed to the mess.........perhaps a new era of compassion, sharing and returning to our so called 'Christian values' might save us???
For sure the anger, the blame game, and the paranoia are going nowhere good.