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Tensions over vaccine debate continue to rise

Last Updated Sep 17, 2021 at 11:41 pm MST

CALGARY — Tension and anger is rising across the country from the anti-vax and anti-mask movement – partly because of increasing polarization and influence from our southern neighbours.

Experts on topics ranging from health law and policy to conspiracy theories across the two countries are feeling the temperature rise in the anti-vax movement.

“Over the last year and a half, it’s really ramped up,” said Timothy Caulfield, a Health Law and Policy professor at the University of Alberta. “The death threats feel more real, the anger is every day, and I think it does become tiresome.”

Caulfield has gone to the police over some of the threats on his life he’s received, and worries about colleagues facing the same circumstances.

This week alone in Calgary, protests from the anti-vax and anti-mask movement were held in both Downtown Calgary and outside of the Foothills Hospital.


Anti-vax-passport protests held at Calgary, Edmonton hospitals

Hundreds attend ‘freedom of choice’ protest in Calgary denouncing COVID-19 mandates


Meanwhile, on the national level, Justin Trudeau had gravel thrown at him on the campaign trail.

Alison Meeks, who specializes in conspiracy theories, says when it comes to the anti-vax movement, the conspiracy provides an outlet for people’s anger.

“What conspiracy theories do, is they come along and they tell you, ‘We can tell you who to be angry at, forget about the complexities, we can direct that anger’,” Meeks said.

And not only that, she says they give you the ability to feel special.

“You would go to one of these hospital protests, and you would think, ‘See? I can’t be wrong, because look at all of these people’, but it’s also a sense that they are smarter than everybody else.”


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Caulfield and Meeks agree that at least one contributor to the rising aggression is the rhetoric and language from the United States. The polarization of the debate.

And Caulfield says the argument has moved from facts and science, into the ideological.

“This isn’t just about ‘oh you’ve got the science wrong’, or ‘I don’t believe what you’re saying about the vaccine’, they’re saying, ‘I don’t believe in your approaches fundamentally’,” Caulfield said.

“That also results in incredible cognitive dissonance, right, you see these conceptually incoherent arguments being put forward because they have to do Olympic level mental gymnastics in order to maintain this world view.”

And, as Caulfield points out, the vast majority of Canadians support vaccines, public health measures, and a majority of Canadians support vaccine mandates, and those numbers are growing, despite the rising anger from the anti-vax movement.