An Ontario MPP is distancing himself from the "Plandemic" conspiracy but continuing to promote a theory that mask-wearing policies are in place to placate a population that is overly fearful of COVID-19.
Randy Hillier, an MPP since 2007, sits as an Independent after departing the Progressive Conservative caucus over a year ago. He's been a vocal opponent of the Ford government's continued use of emergency powers to respond to the pandemic and has been the lone MPP to join protests held by the anti-lockdown and anti-mask movement.
Some of his recent comments have alarmed public health experts and prompted Premier Doug Ford to call him "out to lunch."
In social media posts and in an interview with QP Briefing, Hillier has argued the threat posed by the pandemic is overblown and that masking policies are ineffective. Instead, he says they are meant to appease the public, which has been made overly fearful by various governments' responses to the pandemic.
For example, Hillier liked and retweeted a Twitter post that says: "Mask wearing makes us active participants in the lie. The psychological trauma of this is part of the COERCION tactic used on Prisoners of War in order to break their wills. #Corona #Plandemic"
Mask wearing makes us active participants in the lie.
The psychological trauma of this is part of the COERCION tactic used on Prisoners of War in order to break their wills.#Corona #Plandemic https://t.co/UM17QGOar5
— Amazing Polly is FREE and will act like it (@99freemind) July 18, 2020
Hillier told QP Briefing he doesn't believe in conspiracy theories and doesn't endorse the #Plandemic hashtag — which refers to a conspiracy theory and thoroughly debunked viral video that the pandemic was engineered, among other things — but said the content of the tweet is important.
The tweet includes a video of former physics professor Denis Rancourt referring to the danger posed by the virus as a lie and asserting that messaging urging people to wear masks is a "powerful psychological way" of convincing people to believe that lie.
Hillier shared a similar message in an interview with QP Briefing.
"We have captured ourselves in a very, very significant, positive feedback loop," he said. "You know, our policies have caused a great deal of fear with a great deal of people. And then in order to appease that fear, we come up with another policy like face masks — without realizing, and I don't think people are realizing this — they're thinking that it will appeal to fear, but instead it is elevating the fear. And we're caught in this perpetual cycle. And it's too dangerous for many of them, in elected office, and elsewhere, to speak truthfully."
Hillier has also asserted in the legislature that public health units in the province are instituting mandatory masking orders based on polling rather than scientific evidence, citing a letter he received from a public health unit that referred to polling on the issue.
Both Ford and Health Minister Christine Elliott replied that policies are based on science and evidence.
"I’m sorry, my friend, but he’s out to lunch, in my opinion. We don’t rely on pollsters; we rely on health and science," said Ford. "What he’s saying right now is that — he’s insulting every single doctor around the health table and every professional in public health and Ontario Health. It just doesn’t happen. I just can’t even imagine some guy looking at a poll and saying, 'We’re going to make a decision.' The doctors don’t play that way. As a matter of fact, the doctors are non-political — absolutely zero politics involved. They’re looking out for the best health and safety of our province and our people."
Hillier has also raised Rancourt's views in the legislature.
Rancourt is a plaintiff, along with anti-vaccination group Vaccine Choice Canada, of a lawsuit targeting the Ontario and federal governments, the prime minister, the premier and other politicians, along with the CBC and public health officials, alleging public health measures were implemented not in response to a real pandemic, but for "other political and socio-economic reasons, motives, and measures at the behest of global Billionaire, Corporate and Organizational Oligarchs."
The suit, and Hillier, cite Rancourt's theory that excess deaths during the time of the pandemic aren't caused by a "plague" but instead reflect "mass homicide" created by the actions of governments and nursing homes.
Hillier's comments also run counter to that of public health experts who say COVID-19 continues to present a threat and mask-wearing is an effective way of reducing its spread.
For example, Colin Furness, an epidemiologist with the University of Toronto, said there is a growing body of scientific evidence to support mask-wearing and it's concerning that an elected politician would be spreading misinformation.
He said one of the problems that contribute to that kind of misinformation is a mistaken belief the virus is weakening — when instead, declining case numbers in jurisdictions such as Ontario are coming from the success of public health measures.
"It's like, the land looks flat, therefore the world must be flat," he said. "You really can't take such a short view, a short linear view of the situation — then you misunderstand it completely — and that's what I think this MPP is doing."
The danger of the pandemic is quite real but still not fully understood, he said, pointing to recent studies linking COVID-19 to brain damage.
The result of what Hillier is calling for would result in more cases and more deaths, Furness said. "He wants people to not be locked down, but he doesn't want them wearing masks — and that combination of thinking is exactly what's driving that phenomenon in the United States right now."
Furness said the messaging around mask-wearing at the outset of the pandemic is also to blame — many public health experts, including him, initially advised against asymptomatic people wearing masks. At the time, it wasn't understood that the virus was being transmitted by people who had not developed symptoms. There was a global shortage of masks for medical professionals at the time and no widespread adoption of homemade cloth masks.
Still, Furness said it's important to listen to public health experts. While they don't speak with one voice on every issue, none would say today that it's a bad idea for the public to wear masks, he said.
"That's the place to look, not the politicians, not the pundits, not the conspiracy theorists," said Furness. "If you want to know how to be healthy, talk to your doctor, don't talk to your neighbour. I think that's a really, really important thing."