A spokesperson for the Halifax Regional Municipality (HRM) said the Banquet Room in the LeBrun Recreation Centre on Jan. 31 was originally booked by an individual for $345.
“After the booking, it came to the municipality’s attention that the individual was representing an organization,” Maggie-Jane Spray said in an email.
“The municipality was not aware of this viewing when the space was booked and the contract signed.”
The film, Vaxxed II: The People’s Truth, promotes the unfounded claim that vaccines cause autism or other developmental problems, which they refer to as “vaccine injuries.”
Dr. Robert Strang, Nova Scotia’s chief medical officer of health, stressed there is no evidence linking vaccines to autism and that anti-vaccine falsehoods have been around for decades.
“As a public health professional but also as a citizen of HRM, it does raise questions about a municipal facility being used to disseminate information which is clearly false,” Strang told Global News on Tuesday.
“I’m well aware of the content of this film, it’s clearly in the anti-vaccination camp and it’s not evidence-based in any way, shape or form.”
Concerns have been brought to the attention of Bedford councillor, @TimOuthit. I requested an interview with him this morning but haven't heard back. Not sure what his take is on the event still proceeding.— Alexa MacLean (@AlexaMacLean902) January 21, 2020
Attempts to contact the organizers behind the screening went unanswered.
Multiple studies, including one that involved nearly every child born in Denmark over an 11-year period, have shown that there is no link between autism and vaccination.
The original study that sparked the debunked claim was published in the journal the Lancet in 1998 by Andrew Wakefield and linked the measles, mumps and rubella vaccine to autism.
The publication of the study led to a widespread increase in the number of parents choosing not to vaccinate their children for fear of its link to autism.
But Wakefield’s findings have since been widely rejected and the Lancet formally retracted the study in 2010, due to serious flaws and an undisclosed conflict of interest.
Wakefield is featured in Vaxxed II: The People’s Truth, according to the film’s IMDB page.
Alex Kronstein, a chapter leader of Autistics United Nova Scotia, says that the film is promoting false information.
“It has brought a lot of harm to the autistic community because they see autism as something to fear and it’s caused even more unnecessary stigma against autistic people,” Kronstein said.
“It pushes the idea that autism is something to fear and that it’s like the worst thing that could ever happen to your children.”
The film, according to an event listing, is being shown at locations across the country, while non-profit organization Vaccine Choice Canada, an anti-vaccination group, is promoting the screenings.
Municipal staff have since reviewed the signed rental contract and determined that based on the terms and conditions that the screening will go ahead.
The municipality says it does not have a policy on individuals, groups or organizations booking their facilities unless they offend the principles set out in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms or the Nova Scotia Human Rights Act.
But that doesn’t mean they support the film.
“The municipality does not approve or endorse messaging that organizations, groups or individuals express when booking municipal facilities,” Spray said.
Kronstein said that his organization plans to stage a protest outside the LeBrun Recreation Centre on the day of the screening.
— With files from Global News’ Leslie Young