|As more regions across the country adopt mandatory masking policies in an effort to minimize the spread of COVID-19, some anti-masking groups are joining forces with anti-vaccination proponents and adopting their techniques to spread misinformation and amplify their message.
At least one anti-masking group, Hugs Over Masks, actively partners with Vaccine Choice Canada, one of the country’s most prominent anti-vaccination organizations. Vladislav Sobolev, the anti-masking group’s founder, has repeatedly praised the anti-vaccination group on social media and during protests. Sobolev also told CBC News that high-profile U.S. anti-vaccination advocate Sherri Tenpenny, an osteopath who wrote Saying No To Vaccines, is providing online leadership training to his group.
Many social media posts from both anti-masking and anti-vaccination groups call the pandemic a conspiracy, citing beliefs that it’s been manufactured to give governments the ability to monitor people through contact tracing and to promote a vaccine agenda. Both groups often target Bill Gates, whose foundation has donated hundreds of millions of dollars to support immunizations globally.
Many Canadians who don’t want to wear masks aren’t opposed to vaccines, but the fact that anti-vaccination groups are involved in the relatively new anti-masking movement is of concern to many health experts. “It disturbs me when I see people acting on information that I’m quite sure is not only incorrect, but potentially misleading and potentially leading to harmful outcomes,” said Dr. Matthew Oughton, an infectious disease specialist at McGill University.
Mistrust of government and scientific authorities is a key characteristics among both anti-vaccination and anti-masking advocates, said Maya Goldenberg, an associate professor of philosophy at the University of Guelph specializing in vaccine hesitancy. “When you don’t trust the sort of basic infrastructure that’s supposed to support public well-being, you’re going to come up with all kinds of tactics to try to resist it,” she told CBC News.