A candidate with Canada’s far-right fringe party has compared vaccine passports to the country’s horrific treatment of Indigenous peoples at residential schools, and has distributed pamphlets making that comparison.
On the front of a flyer of People’s Party of Canada (PPC) candidate Renate Siekmann, who is running in Vancouver, an old, black and white image of Indigenous children sitting on the steps of a residential “school” is blown up and includes a banner that says, “Discrimination is wrong. No vaccine passport.”
In a tweet, Siekmann compares vaccine passports to a historic pass system that forced Indigenous peoples to show proof of permission, signed by a government agent, whenever they left or returned to their reserves. The system was in place until at least the 1930s.
In response, Indigenous leaders called for Siekmann’s removal and said her comparisons are “repugnant.” They also asked PPC Leader Maxime Bernier, known for courting anti-vaxxers and anti-maskers, to apologize.
“As First Nations, entire generations of our peoples were stolen from their families and communities. They were tortured, physically and sexually abused, and murdered. They lost their languages and cultures, and thousands of our precious children never came home, ” stated British Columbia Assembly of First Nations (BCAFN) Regional Chief Terry Teegee said in a statement. “Claiming that a public health measure, such as a vaccine passport, is somehow comparable or equivalent to violent and genocidal practices is harmful and repugnant.”
Residential schools were used by the Canadian government, in conjunction with churches, to forcibly assimilate 150,000 First Nations, Inuit, and Métis children between the 1880s and late 1990s. Abuses of all types were rampant, as were malnutrition and disease caused by terrible living conditions. Thousands of children went missing or died.
Vaccine passports, on the other hand, are a means to encourage people to get vaccinated, so that provinces can overcome the pandemic and protect health care systems from being overwhelmed as the Delta variant drives Canada’s fourth wave. As of Monday, B.C. started requiring proof of vaccination for access to various services, including restaurants and gyms.
All this comes as the PPC’s platform commits to fostering “respect, freedom, fairness, and responsibility” with Indigenous communities. It’s unclear how Siekmann’s comparisons align with those promises, but when asked she said the BCAFN is engaged in "blatant gaslighting" and doesn't understand freedom. Meanwhile, the party platform says vaccine passports are “authoritarian” and lead to “segregation.” Siekmann also compares vaccine passports to Nazi Germany.
When asked for comment, Siekmann told VICE World News to refer to her Twitter account, where she says, “Don’t let history repeat itself” while referring to the colonial pass system. In another tweet she says, “This analogy may make some uncomfortable or angry but this is a hard and important conversation to have.”
Teegee said what’s “more disheartening is that many Canadians believe that public health measures make them victims of prejudice… An inconvenient interruption in your social life to save lives during a deadly pandemic is not discrimination.”
In an interview with News1130, Teegee said the timing of Siekmann’s comparison makes it worse. In May, Tk’emlúps te Secwepemc First Nation confirmed the unmarked graves of hundreds of children at a former residential school site. Other communities have followed suit and searches for unmarked graves are taking place across Canada.
As VICE World News previously put it, the PPC is an “anti-vax, anti-climate science, anti-immigration party that is somehow gaining steam in the polls.” Bernier, who defected from the Conservative Party and started the PPC in 2018, is performing far better than expected, with his party polling in fourth place and, according to Nanos, enjoying nearly 7 percent of support nation-wide. Experts have even suggested that Bernier will steal some votes from the Conservative Party, especially from disgruntled voters who perceive Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole as too moderate and others who believe public health measures violate their individual freedoms.
This story has been updated to include additional comment from Siekmann.
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