There’s an unspoken rule in Canadian mainstream media that family members of elected officials are generally off-limits. The reason is simple: Spouses, children, siblings and other relatives of politicians are not elected to represent any constituency; they didn’t choose public life, they are not paid with public dollars and thus there is little justification for reporting details of their private lives. There has to be a clear public interest in divulging personal details and most of the time, that public interest is plainly not there.
The exception, however, is when a family member’s connection to an officeholder is used to extract some sort of benefit, material or not: when the Prime Minister’s wife, mother and brother, say, are paid for speaking appearances by a charity that later lands a multimillion-dollar contract to administer a summer jobs program; or when an MP employs her sister in her constituency office; or when the head of a public inquiry for the Alberta government hands a sole-source contract to a law firm where his son is a partner.
In these cases, there is some sort of advantage conferred (or at least, there is the appearance thereof) by virtue of a connection to a public officeholder, thus there is a public interest in reporting on the people involved.
For months, most journalists who report in or on Ontario have been aware that one of Premier Doug Ford’s adult daughters, Krista Haynes, has been posting anti-vaccine rants to her Instagram. In one post, she told her thousands of followers to “rise up” and continue “holding the line for medical freedom.” In another, she claimed that masks were ineffective and that “every booster you take is going to weaken your natural immunity.”
More recently, she revealed that her husband, Dave Haynes, was put on unpaid leave from his job with the Toronto Police Service for failing to comply with the force’s vaccine mandate, though she remained optimistic that “the people behind all of this will be held accountable” because “evil does not win.”
Aside from a couple of online blogs, no media organization had devoted any space to the Premier’s daughter’s rants. The reason was that Ms. Haynes was not exploiting her connection to Queen’s Park in any way; she was just a regular citizen spouting misinformation and conspiracy on her private Instagram account, as thousands of people in the province do every day. That in and of itself is not newsworthy, even if it was remarkable that “people behind all of this,” in Ms. Haynes’s polemic, was principally her father.
That changed Monday night, when she appeared at The Christian Fight for Freedom alongside her husband. The $5-a-head event, which included several participants who spoke out against vaccine and mask mandates, advertised special guests “Dave and Krista Haynes, family of the premier Doug Ford,” as well as former Ford ally Charles McVety, who joked onstage about Ms. Haynes running for premier. The draw for the event was not a special appearance by a random Instagrammer, but by someone with a literal seat at Mr. Ford’s dinner table.
That rendered Ms. Haynes’s anti-vaccine advocacy a matter of public interest. Indeed, a relative invoking her connection to the Premier to sell tickets to an anti-vaccine event can no longer maintain an expectation of privacy. This is not to imply that Ms. Haynes is doing anything morally unjust by using her connection to Queen’s Park – her greater sin is trying to convince people out of accepting a life-saving vaccine – but just that journalists and others should no longer be expected to politely look away when Ms. Haynes goes off on one of her anti-vaccine rants.
None of this, however, is an indictment of the Premier. There will be those who will see Ms. Haynes’s diatribes as the smoking gun that prove Mr. Ford has been kowtowing to anti-vaccination advocates all along, as Ontario NDP Leader Andrea Horwath has previously suggested. Others will question how committed the province is to getting everyone vaccinated if the Premier can’t even convince his own daughter. But the principal takeaway from this situation is far less abstruse.
It is that despite his power and status – he is the guy writing the rules of Ontario’s COVID-19 response, after all – Mr. Ford nevertheless finds himself in the same uncomfortable space that so many of us have found ourselves in over the course of the pandemic, with that one parent or sibling or close friend who refuses to get vaccinated and has fallen down a rabbit hole of misinformation.
His experience in this very narrow sense is an exceedingly relatable one, and probably deserves empathy more than scorn or cheap partisan shots. Ms. Haynes’s anti-vaccine preaching may no longer be a private matter, but it also shouldn’t be one for which the Premier is held responsible.
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