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Edmonton theatre defends showing of controversial anti-vaccination documentary

WATCH ABOVE: Health officials in Edmonton are concerned that a controversial, anti-vaccination movie will be playing at a local theatre. But the theatre's management said there are several reasons why they are showing it. Julia Wong reports.

Public health officials are voicing concern over the showing of a controversial film at an Edmonton theatre.

Vaxxed: From Cover-Up to Catastrophe is playing at the Princess Theatre on Whyte Avenue from July 1 to 7. The documentary, which was pulled from the Tribeca Film Festival after backlash, alleges that the U.S. government covered up a link between autism and vaccinations. The director of the film, Dr. Andrew Wakefield, is also the author of a study claiming a link between the measles, mumps and rubella vaccine and autism spectrum disorders.

That study has since been debunked and retracted from The Lancet. Wakefield has also been barred from practicing medicine because of a conflict of financial interest.

READ MORE: What caused a whooping cough epidemic? Scientists blame parents

Tim Caulfield, a Canada Research Chair in Health Law and Policy at the Health Law Institute at the University of Alberta, is surprised the documentary is playing at the Princess.

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“Someone had to make a decision to bring this in, at least to give it the green light. And given the controversy around it, given the themes in this film, I find it really disappointing,” he said.

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READ MORE: End personal and religious vaccine exemptions: American Medical Association

“Would [the theatre] show a film about racism that supports discrimination against a particular sector of our society? Probably not. Would they bring in a film that supports eugenic activity? Probably not. So there is a line…and for some reason they decided this film that really creates and supports inaccurate health myths is okay and I think that’s problematic.”

Caulfield said he supports open debate and free speech, but he has concerns about the content of the documentary. He calls vaccination one of the great health success stories of the last 200 years and said there is an overwhelming consensus in the scientific community that vaccinations are safe and effective.

READ MORE: How should health officials reverse an anti-vaxxer movement?

“This movie clearly has themes in it that are about anti-vaccination, that clearly has themes in it that support anti-vaccination myths. What a showing of a film like this might do is it might embolden that community. It might lead to a further polarization of the debate. It might make it even more difficult to convince people to get their kids vaccinated,” he said.

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READ MORE: How to convince skeptical parents that vaccines are safe

Dr. Stan Houston, a professor of medicine and infectious disease expert in the University of Alberta’s School of Public Health, said vaccines have led to the eradication of preventable diseases.

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“Historically, vaccines, most public health people would agree vaccines have probably been the second-most important advance in human health after clean water and sanitation,” he said.

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Houston said the anti-vaccination movement may be the result of distrust of authorities.

READ MORE: ‘Vaxxed’ producers interview Lethbridge parents found guilty in meningitis death

“Vaccines are a victim of their success really. People aren’t seeing kids on an everyday basis dying of measles or diphtheria. When you don’t have that gear, it’s easier to concentrate on real and imagined risks,” Houston said.

“Just because there are two points of view doesn’t mean they are of equal validity.”

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Houston said he hopes the showing of Vaxxed leads to more informed discussions about immunizations.

RELATED: Alberta father calls for mandatory vaccinations after son exposed to measles

Global News reached out to the management of the Princess Theatre, and a spokesperson said staff agree with the public concern over the documentary’s contents.

“We are in no way seeking to promote or support the movement it represents by choosing to show the film at our theatre, and are well aware of the absence of evidence linking autism and vaccinations,” the statement reads.

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However, the theatre said it is showing the documentary for several reasons. A spokesperson said the theatre supports small studios and independently made film.

RELATED: Have you vaccinated your child? CMA calls for proof before kids go to school

“In many cases in the past, we have not agreed with the message of these films, but have chosen to show them anyway because of our belief that they are still deserving of a voice in media. If we were to pick and choose based on only our interest or agreement we would feel like we were disingenuous in this belief. Obviously the somewhat more harmful nature of this film made this choice harder than normal,” the statement reads.

The statement said the choice to show the documentary is also for business reasons, since it has received commercial success at other theatres.

“This should be a case of the community voting with their money. If this is not the kind of content you want to see, you should stay at home or choose to attend one of the several other films we’re showing the same night instead of giving the creators of this film your money,” the statement reads.