A Vancouver doctor is speaking out against the invitation of a prominent U.S. anti-vaccination advocate to speak at an event in Surrey next fall.
Robert F. Kennedy Jr., son of late U.S. Senator Robert F. Kennedy and a well-known environmentalist, is scheduled to speak at the Surrey Board of Trade on Sept. 17, on the topic of clean energy.
Kennedy Jr. is also well-known for his anti-vaccination activism and believes vaccines cause autism.
The Surrey Board of Trade says Kennedy Jr. will not be speaking about vaccines, but that’s not good enough for Dr. Eric Cadesky, a past president of Doctors of BC, who told CKNW’s Simi Sara Show the event should be scrapped.
“This is a terrible idea. We’re in the middle of an expertise crisis where, as a doctor, every day I’m faced with patients who don’t know what to believe. They’re bombarded with information on social media,” Cadesky said.
“We’re in the middle of a measles outbreak. There are over a thousand cases in the ‘States. And yet we have someone coming who spreads lies.”
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Cadesky argued that the issue is not a matter of free speech. He said Kennedy Jr. has the right to his opinions, but said when the man is actively spreading untruths that public health at risk, it is inappropriate to give him a platform.
“There are so many people locally, nationally and internationally who can speak about clean technology,” he said.
“So with such a wide variety of people that we could call on, why this particular person and the harm that’s going to bring? Why paint your organization, especially when Fraser Health is seeing declining rates of measles-mumps-rubella vaccination?“
The event has drawn fire on social media from a variety of quarters, including former BC Liberal cabinet minister and physician Moira Stillwell.
“What were they thinking?” wrote Stillwell.
“Surrey Board of Trade books lead anti-vaxxer Robert Kennedy Jr. I assume title is ‘how to risk your children’s lives and those of your neighbours’ please don’t go.”
For its part, the board of trade says the event will go on.
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Board of trade president and CEO Anita Huberman said hosting Kennedy Jr. is about hearing from diverse voices, and she says he’ll be sticking exclusively to a topic of the environment and clean technology.
“I had a bit of a social media mob over the weekend and and everyone is entitled to their perspective and I completely understand and respect that. But in these democratic times, we have to hear different perspectives,” she said.
“We’ve had speakers in the past including George Bush … even Kim Campbell, you know very controversial individuals, but they had good messages. In fact, even with Robert Kennedy we are in direct opposition on his position to the pipeline where we supported the pipeline and he is opposed to it.”
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