COVID-19

Emboldened by social media, Victoria businesses vow to fight vaccine passport

A lawsuit has been launched with “no chance” of winning while some clamour for horse medicine

By Brishti Basu
September 1, 2021
COVID-19

Emboldened by social media, Victoria businesses vow to fight vaccine passport

A lawsuit has been launched with “no chance” of winning while some clamour for horse medicine

By Brishti Basu
Sep 1, 2021
Dr. Bonnie Henry. Photo: Government of BC / Flickr
COVID-19

Emboldened by social media, Victoria businesses vow to fight vaccine passport

A lawsuit has been launched with “no chance” of winning while some clamour for horse medicine

By Brishti Basu
September 1, 2021
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Emboldened by social media, Victoria businesses vow to fight vaccine passport
Dr. Bonnie Henry. Photo: Government of BC / Flickr

Visitors at Esquimalt’s Sunnyside Cafe were welcomed with a sign last week announcing a new special on the menu: a “Freedom Omelette”—three eggs, bacon, cheddar, avocado and hollandaise—to nail home the business’s new stance opposing vaccine passports in BC.

“We believe that the passport mandate is overreaching into people's personal medical information, and we just don't feel that it's appropriate to enforce on people that don't want to give the information over,” said Brendan Marshal, one of the owners of the business. 

“It may be because they haven't had their vaccine, it could be a number of different reasons why they don't want to share it, but we are willing to do everything other than enforce access to our service.”

Nearly every table at the small eatery was full last Friday afternoon, showing how popular the business remains after announcing their decision on social media. 

Thousands of individuals and business owners across BC have gone online to express their disapproval of the provincial health officer order implementing a new vaccine passport—officially known as the BC Vaccine Card—which people 12 and older must show in order to get into bars, restaurants, movie theatres, concerts and more come Sept. 13. 

The backlash against this order can be seen surfacing on multiple Instagram accounts and Facebook groups, both across BC and on Vancouver Island, with hordes of followers in each one. A group entitled “Van Island Businesses Against Health Pass,” for example, has already amassed nearly 8,000 members in the week since its creation. Its provincial counterpart, “BC Businesses Against Health Pass,” has around 108,000 members and was created at the same time. 

A sign on the door of his establishment reads, “Please wear a mask. If you are exempt let us know. Everyone is welcome.” Plastic dividers separating diners at a common bar-like seating area stand as proof of a COVID-safety plan that was put in place earlier in the pandemic. 

But asking patrons to show proof of vaccination is a step too far for Marshal, who believes requiring this proof would make some feel ostracized. 

“I also think that it's absurd that you can't sit for a cup of coffee on [our] patio with your loved one without a vaccine passport, but you can go and stuff yourself into a lineup at Costco for 45 minutes with people that don't have to show a passport,” Marshal said, hastening to add, “Even though I'm not saying that you should have a passport for Costco. I'm just saying that the whole thing is absurd.”

Businesses like grocery, retail, and healthcare services will not have to ask customers for proof of vaccination under the new order, but restaurants, concerts, movie theatres, and fitness centres are among the ones that will. 

Marshal, who has co-owned Sunnyside Cafe for the past five years, says he has and will continue to follow every provincial health order except for the vaccine card mandate. That may not be enough. In an emailed statement, the Ministry of Health told Capital Daily that individuals and businesses that do not comply with the order will be subject to enforcement measures, including closure. 

“It’s not something that I’m worried about,” Marshal said, upon learning that his business could be shut down by the province. “We're standing up for people's privacy rights and we feel that that is a worthy cause.”

He declined to comment on whether he or his employees are vaccinated, but said the business is not discouraging members of the public from getting vaccinated.

Support and boycotts

From Marshal’s perspective, public response to their decision to not require vaccine cards has overall been “tremendous.”

“We are taking phone calls every 15 minutes with people telling us how proud they are of us, and how they've had the vaccine [but] they don't want to have to prove it to a 22-year-old hostess,” he said. “We've also had some customers say that they won't be coming back. We respect that decision.”

Some long-time members of the Esquimalt community say they feel let down by Sunnyside Cafe’s decision, after having supported the business throughout the pandemic.

“In my circle of friends, we’re unanimous,” said Susan, whose name has been changed to respect her request for anonymity out of fear of harassment. “We feel let down because we have all been in a marathon and we've all made sacrifices. To find out that a business that we supported this whole time isn't on the same page is disappointing.”

Susan has been living in Esquimalt for about 15 years and, before the pandemic, says she used to frequent Sunnyside Cafe at least once a week. She went less often during the pandemic, but still managed to visit the business twice in the last month. 

The groundswell of support Marshal says he has felt is unsurprising to Susan, who says she understands why the business owners feel like their decision was met with approval from most people. 

“I think the people that are most likely to agree with their stance are the ones that are most likely to post on their Facebook page in the affirmative,” Susan said. “I think the local community is probably not as forthcoming with their opinions in a public forum...the people who walk by their restaurant everyday, think differently. That's my impression.”

Sunnyside Cafe isn’t the only business Susan says she and her friends won’t be going back to. Just around the corner on Grenville Ave stands Guidos Caffe, whose owner, Paul Silletta, has also publicly indicated his distaste for the vaccine card mandate. 

“[I have] personal knowledge of him going into another business without a mask on and [when] they asked him to put a mask on, he kind of laughed it off,” Susan said. “Personally, that’s the day I quit going to his restaurant.”

When asked about his stance on the vaccine card mandate, Silletta declined to comment, saying he fears backlash from the community but stated he has not yet decided what his business will do come Sept. 13. 

He did, however, share a link to the announcement of a lawsuit that challenges the federal and BC provincial government’s public health orders related to the pandemic. 

The lawsuit

On Aug. 16, two lawyers—one in Vancouver and the other in Toronto—filed a lawsuit against members of the federal and BC provincial governments, the RCMP, CBC and a number of other defendants, to challenge public health measures implemented during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

The mammoth 391-page document claims the COVID-19 pandemic is a hoax that was planned by Bill Gates and the WHO, with help from Dr. Theresa Tam and Dr. Bonnie Henry, to “install a New World (Economic) Order” with the goal of eliminating small businesses. The lawsuit also claims that vaccines come with “chip technology” and that mandating vaccinations is a way for the plaintiffs to “effect total surveillance” on the global population.

According to Donna Greschner, professor emerita of constitutional law at UVic, the lawsuit shouldn’t be taken seriously.

“I would think it has no chance [of winning] at all,” Greschner told Capital Daily. “I wouldn't even say a one-in-a-million chance—I would say no chance at all.”

The lawsuit cites conspiracy theory websites as sources for their arguments, which Greschner says will not be acceptable as evidence in a courtroom, and the defendants’ legal teams will be able to have it dismissed easily. 

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“I don't think that many lawyers give claims that come out of the Constitutional Rights Center much attention,” Greschner said, referring to the organization through which this lawsuit was filed. “This is actually the creation of the Toronto lawyer, Rocco Galati. He uses it to bring any number of lawsuits alleging outrageous behavior by any number of actors. It’s had, at best, very limited success.”

Both lawyers associated with this statement of claim have a dubious past, according to Greschner. She pointed to a ruling in 2016 in which a federal judge said Galati used “gonzo logic” to make his claims. 

The Vancouver-based lawyer, Lawrence Wong, was the subject of criticism after a lawsuit he brought in 2017, where he made unsubstantiated claims of serious wrongdoing against the judge

Marshal declined to say whether he specifically supports the lawsuit, but did express support in principle. “I support any lawsuit that stands up for Canadians'  rights and freedoms,” he said. 

Taking (horse) medicine into their own hands

The announcement of a vaccine mandate for some businesses in BC has led to a surge in activity among those who do not believe in the COVID-19 vaccines, for various reasons. 

In Victoria, like in other parts of the world, people opposed to vaccines have been trying to source ivermectin, a deworming drug intended for horses and livestock that many falsely believe can treat or prevent COVID-19. 

The owner of Greenhawk Equestrian Sport Vancouver Island in Brentwood Bay, who requested her own name not be used, said the store has been dealing with calls from people inquiring about the drug for the past month. 

“Usually when people are buying it for their horse, they don't call, because it's such a standard horse medication that you just come in and pick it up,” the owner said. “If someone’s really unfamiliar with it and [asks] if we carry it and then starts inquiring about dosages for ‘a smaller animal’ and things like that, that’s when you can… start wondering if this is actually for a horse.”

Once it becomes clear that a caller wants to use ivermectin themselves, store staff have been regularly informing them that the drug is not for human consumption as treatment for COVID-19. 

“I think the next step is putting up signage,” the owner said. “It's not something we've ever had to question people about in the past. This is very new.”

Buckerfield’s, a feed store that operates several locations across Vancouver Island, told CHEK News on Tuesday that its stores sold out of ivermectin.

Demand for ivermectin has surged across Canada and the US in recent weeks. The New York Times reported earlier this week that prescriptions for the drug rose to 88,000 per week in the US in mid-August, compared to an average of 3,600 per week before the pandemic. An NBC News investigation revealed the source of this surge to be a telehealth provider in the US——whose information circulates on Facebook groups among hundreds of thousands of followers—launched by a pro-Trump group of doctors who previously touted hydroxychloroquin as a cure for COVID.  

The phenomenon—and reports of people hospitalized after trying to self-medicate with ivermectin—prompted the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to issue a point-blank statement on Twitter: “You are not a horse. You are not a cow. Seriously, y'all. Stop it.” Health Canada followed suit about a week later, issuing their own advisory against consuming ivermectin as a treatment COVID-19. 

The drug is approved for human consumption in the form of tablets to treat people with intestinal strongyloidiasis and onchocerciasis, two conditions caused by parasitic worms. It can also be administered topically to get rid of head lice. But ivermectin sold by livestock supply stores come in highly concentrated forms, and the FDA says high doses self-administered by human beings can be extremely toxic. 

Brishti Basu / Capital Daily
Brishti Basu / Capital Daily

“The veterinary version of ivermectin, especially at high doses, can be dangerous for humans and may cause serious health problems such as vomiting, diarrhea, low blood pressure, allergic reactions, dizziness, seizures, coma and even death,” reads Health Canada’s warning. 

Besides ingesting livestock deworming drugs, people have also been flooding the phone lines and inboxes of the independent office of the BC Human Rights Commissioner to complain about the vaccine mandate.

A spokesperson for the office said in an email that their small office is overwhelmed with calls about this issue—so much so that they had to issue a public statement asking people to send emails instead or contact the Office of the Provincial Health Officer.

The Human Rights Commissioner herself has made her position clear. 

“Ultimately, it is the position of BC’s Human Rights Commissioner, Kasari Govender, that duty bearers can in some circumstances implement a vaccination status policy such as a proof-of-vaccination requirement—but only if other less intrusive means of preventing COVID-19 transmission are inadequate for the setting and if due consideration is given to the human rights of everyone involved,” reads a guidance document from her office. 

For Greschner at UVic, there is no legal lens through which BC’s vaccine mandate could be seen as overreaching. 

“The fact of the matter is you may have a right to associate and a right to exercise autonomy over your own personal choices,” she said. “But you also must, of course, accept the consequences of doing so and one consequence might be that you can't then go to a sporting event because you decided not to get vaccinated.”

Nevertheless, hundreds of people, including management at Sunnyside Cafe, gathered at the legislature building on Wednesday afternoon to protest the BC vaccine card, among other COVID-related measures. They were seen holding signs with slogans like “No TV = No Pandemic”, and “Men, will you rise up to protect your kids & wives?” 

According to a statement Wednesday afternoon from Island Health President and CEO Kathy MacNeil, healthcare workers were verbally abused by protestors as they came to and left work, and in at least one case, an employee was physically assaulted.

“What happened to our health-care teams today is not acceptable to me nor to the people and communities they serve,” MacNeil said. “Our health-care teams deserve respect and support, no matter what personal beliefs we hold.”

BC Premier John Horgan issued a similar statement in light of other anti-vaxxer protests across the province. “While everyone has the right to peaceful protest, the targeting and harassment of health-care workers at health-care facilities today is completely unacceptable,” he said. “We stand by our health-care workers and support them fully.”

In the grand scheme of things, the number of businesses speaking out against the vaccine mandate may seem too large to ignore—but many of those vehemently opposed, including some real estate agents, hairdressers, and retail stores, fall under the category of businesses that won’t even be required to ask for proof of vaccination from their customers anyway.

Update at 5:25 pm on Sept. 1: This story has been updated with statements released late in the afternoon by Island Health and Premier John Horgan.

contact@capitaldaily.ca

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