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Conservative MP Derek Sloan arrives to a meeting in Ottawa on Sept. 22, 2020.Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press

Anti-vaxxers have found their useful idiot in Conservative MP Derek Sloan. Mr. Sloan, who has previously suggested that mask ordinances are about government control and compliance – not about stopping the spread of an incredibly infectious virus – has sponsored a petition in the House of Commons that is rife with hysterical misinformation about COVID-19 vaccines.

The petition, which so far has garnered more than 24,000 signatures, erroneously claims that “COVID-19 vaccines are not designed to prevent infection or transmission” and that “COVID-19 vaccination is effectively human experimentation.” The petition also demands that the government create an independent review committee that includes “citizen vaccine safety advocates,” which might be a job opportunity for your quirky neighbour Ashley who won’t eat anything that touches plastic and feeds her kids celery root to stave off measles.

The petition was initiated by an Ontario woman named Gisele Baribeau, who is the director of the anti-vaccine group Vaccine Choice Canada, which claims that routine vaccinations can damage children’s brains and that vaccines are linked to sudden death in babies. And as with typical anti-vaccine propaganda, the petition marries a few true or true-ish observations (“COVID-19 vaccine development is being rushed”; “Long-term adverse effects of COVID-19 vaccination may not be known for many years”) with wackadoo claims about human experimentation in an effort to amplify and exploit the very legitimate concerns the average citizens might have about COVID-19 vaccines.

It is absolutely true, for example, that COVID-19 vaccines have been “rushed,” to use the petitioner’s term, but that doesn’t mean that important safety protocols have been abandoned (as the petition also claims). Rather, the delays that typically stretch out vaccine development for years – lack of funding to move from one phase of clinical trial to the next, challenges in recruiting volunteers, speed bumps in accessing government approvals, for example – didn’t factor into the global race for a COVID-19 vaccine. Vaccine developers were also allowed to run trials in parallel, meaning phases could overlap if the results looked promising. And drug manufacturers began large-scale production in advance of approval so doses would be available as soon as possible, which is something that wouldn’t happen outside of a public health emergency.

The petition of course omits that context, and concludes with a series of mostly reasonable demands (“Preserve and protect our ethical, legal, and moral right to informed consent;” “Require that vaccine safety studies comply with standards equal to or exceeding other pharmaceutical products”) to obscure the fact that it is peddling nonsense about how COVID-19 vaccination programs will turn the world into Frankenstein’s lab. But that’s generally how propaganda works: a little bit of truth to help the misinformation go down easier.

When pressed for why he sponsored the petition, Mr. Sloan told Global News he hadn’t read the petition since he first tabled it on Nov. 3, but added that he believed that there were some “good points in there.” On his Facebook page, Mr. Sloan also noted: “It has always been my policy to sponsor petitions that are sent to me, if I feel they are reflective of concerns raised by constituents.”

This is not an unusual defence: former Green Party leader Elizabeth May offered a similar explanation when she presented a petition questioning the official Commission Report on the events of 9/11 back in 2014, and so did Liberal MP Ron McKinnon earlier this year when he sponsored a petition about the supposed dangers 5G cell towers pose to children. Indeed, some Members of Parliament believe it is their duty to present any and all petitions to the House, regardless of how absurd, incorrect or irresponsible they might be.

But that’s a lousy convention for an exercise that inadvertently lends legitimacy to a petitioner’s claims, regardless of whether the sponsoring MP actually agrees with them. Mr. Sloan hasn’t said whether he personally agrees with the petition he put forward, but he nevertheless appears to have no qualms about being used by an anti-vaccine group to propagate misinformation and to force an official response from the government in the House of Commons. One would think Members of Parliament would be a little more circumspect about the type of health information (or misinformation) they elevate during a public health emergency, but perhaps Mr. Sloan’s government-imposed mandatory mask cut off blood flow to his brain, rendering it a sinister tool of government control after all.

There are certainly reasonable questions that many people will have about a brand-new vaccine that was created in record time. And indeed, it will be a challenge to convince these vaccine-hesitant citizens to allow themselves to be injected with something they don’t entirely trust, which is why their concerns should be addressed in a meticulous, thoughtful way. This petition, however, is merely propaganda disguised as pedestrian anxiety, with Mr. Sloan playing the role of anti-vaccine mule.

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