A world-renowned professor on immunization is criticizing the Halifax Regional Municipality’s policy on renting venues ahead of a screening of an anti-vaccination film.
Dr. Noni MacDonald, a professor of pediatrics at Dalhousie University, said the screening of Vaxxed II spreads misinformation harmful to children’s health.
“If somebody was coming in to present for kids a pro-alcohol or pro-tobacco video, would we rent out to them?” said MacDonald, an adviser on immunization to the World Health Organization. “Why is anti-vax different from pro-alcohol and pro-tobacco?”
A group called CFVC is scheduled to screen the film Friday at the LeBrun Recreation Centre, a municipal building in Bedford.
To book a venue, groups fill out various forms and pay a rental fee. The rental is allowed as long as it doesn’t discriminate against groups protected under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms or the Nova Scotia Human Rights Act.
“The municipality does not have a policy on individuals, groups or organizations that can or cannot book in our facilities, unless they offend the principles set out in the Canadian Charter Rights or Nova Scotia Human Rights Act,” an HRM spokesperson said in an email to The Signal.
Since the event doesn’t target any group, CFVC is permitted to book the venue under current HRM policies.
MacDonald believes HRM’s decision to allow the screening violates parts of the Convention on the Rights of the Child.
“I think Halifax council is looking at this from the wrong way,” said MacDonald.
Article 17 of the convention says a state should promote information with the purpose of improving a child’s physical and mental health, while Article 24 says a state should “recognize the right of the child to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of health.”
Tim Outhit, councillor for Bedford-Wentworth, took to social media last week to express his concerns about the screening. In a tweet, he questioned HRM’s decision not to cancel the event.
HRM Rec staff says they cannot cancel the contract. I disagree and I am discussing within HRM Legal. They also want to hold sessions in other areas at other HRM facilities!
— Tim Outhit (@TimOuthit) January 21, 2020
Outhit said he would like to see some amendments to HRM’s policy for booking venues.
“I’m all in favour of us improving things. There’s a fine line between censorship and trying to prevent harm and damage. The lawyers would have to look at this, but right now the contract only deals with the Charter and Human Rights Act,” Outhit said in an interview.
CFVC couldn’t be reached for a comment.
MacDonald said films like Vaxxed II undermine the work of health researchers by seeding doubt.
“Five to 10 minutes of listening to this kind of stuff and it can change your intention to vaccinate,” said MacDonald. “It undermines the other information that you’ve been hearing. If you’re not told and explained and shown that they are trying to con you, you start to believe in this.”
MacDonald said the leaders of the anti-vaxxer movement are often trying to turn a profit. She pointed to an investigation by the Guardian that found some anti-vaxxer Facebook groups were selling vitamins to their followers. A ticket for Vaxxed II costs $17.89.
“We need to point out the ones that are making money, and for their followers we need to help them understand how they are being bamboozled,” said MacDonald.
‘Harm and stigma’
Alex Kronstein, chapter leader of Autistics United Nova Scotia, is organizing a protest for the night of the screening. He’s worried the film may lead to outbreaks of disease, but he’s also concerned with the language that anti-vaxxers use when talking about people with autism.
“These anti-vaccine views have brought a lot of harm and stigma to autistic people because it leads people to see autism as something to fear and to look at autistic people as damaged,” said Kronstein.
He thinks HRM should amend its policy for booking facilities.
“Maybe we should be setting the bar higher than not inciting violence or hatred, to include a rule against hosting these kinds of movie screenings at a time when we are getting outbreaks of all these contagious preventable diseases,” said Kronstein.
About the author
Nick Cantar is a journalist for The Signal. He is curious about all kinds of stories. When not working, Nick enjoys being outdoors.