The federal Public Safety Minister released a four-page letter to Twitter Canada Tuesday, urging the social-media platform to remove an “abusive” tweet directed at the president of the Canadian Medical Association and to “stand united” against the abuse and harassment of health care workers.
Marco Mendicino’s letter to Twitter Canada’s managing director, Paul Burns, is primarily focused on a Dec. 22 tweet from an anonymous account posted in reply to CMA president Katharine Smart.
The tweet states: “Are you scared you are next @KatharineSmart? A group of us who can’t stand you have been seeing you and your family for weeks.” It also says the group has compiled “some great footage” and suggests it will be released at “the perfect time.”
Health care workers, politicians face new wave of harassment as tensions over COVID-19 restrictions rise
Shortly after the minister’s letter was posted, the account was deactivated by the user.
Twitter Canada did not comment specifically on the status of the account or the minister’s complaint, but said in a statement that abuse, harassment and hateful conduct “have no place on our service” and are against company policy.
“We recognize the concerns health practitioners have regarding social media, and we are committed to creating healthy experiences on Twitter,” said the statement provided by a Twitter Canada spokesperson.
The Liberal government has signalled a desire to increase regulation of social-media companies across several fronts, including plans to reintroduce legislation in the new year aimed at “serious forms of harmful online content.” The government’s initial proposals have generated concern from some that they fail to strike the right balance in terms of protecting free speech.
The minister’s letter notes that Parliament recently adopted Bill C-3, which includes new Criminal Code offences for intimidating health professionals.
Health care workers and politicians have recently raised concerns about a new wave of harassment related to COVID-19 policies.
Mr. Mendicino’s letter said it was his understanding that Twitter had determined the tweet directed at Dr. Smart did not violate the company’s own rules regarding abusive behaviour.
“I am asking you to reconsider your decision to leave the tweet on your platform, given that it appears to directly contravene your rules, and because allowing such comments to be published puts health care workers at risk of further intimidation,” the letter states.
“This tweet appears in a thread following Dr. Smart’s condemnation of the equally inappropriate and inflammatory use of the term ‘bounty’ by others on Twitter offering a monetary reward of $5,000 to anyone who could capture video surveillance of public health officials breaking COVID-19 protocols, either in public or private,” Mr. Mendicino wrote.
The CMA issued a statement on Dec. 21 condemning “bullying, intimidation, and threats of violence” against health care workers in direct response to a comment posted earlier that day on Twitter by Ezra Levant, publisher of the far-right Rebel News website.
Mr. Levant had pledged a “$5,000 bounty to anyone who sends video of this fearmongering TV doctor breaking Covid rules” after Toronto-based palliative-care physician Dr. Naheed Dosani had said on the platform that cancelling holiday gatherings was the right thing to do in light of the surge in new COVID-19 cases.
The minister’s letter pointed out that Twitter’s own rules ban targeted harassment or inciting others to harass someone.
“Health care professionals who have worked tirelessly and around the clock since the beginning of the pandemic are being harassed simply for doing their jobs and providing care. This abuse and harassment is wrong and we should stand united against it,” the minister wrote.
“For companies like Twitter, having rules in place regarding the use of social-media platforms is vital. The public should feel confident that these rules will be applied.”
CMA spokesperson Anick Losier praised the fact that the tweet in question had been “finally” taken down.
“Any threats, regardless of their form, need to be taken seriously, and we are working with authorities to identify and minimize any risk,” she said in an e-mail. “We also call on social-media platforms to increase efforts to ensure that their spaces are safe.”
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