Moe stands ground amid further criticism for Unified Grassroots phone call

Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe, right, enters the chamber on first day of the legislative session at the Legislative Building in Regina on Wednesday Oct. 27, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Michael Bell

Despite two days of opposition criticism, Saskatchewan’s Premier Scott Moe insists that an hour-long phone call with the president of Unified Grassroots last week was the right thing to do.

“We may not agree with the point of view of a number of those individuals on both sides of this conversation from a government’s perspective, but that should not restrict us from engaging and making those calls,” Moe said Tuesday of the chat with Nadine Ness.

Ness helped start the group, which was involved in an unsuccessful court challenge of Saskatchewan’s proof-of-vaccine mandate, in September.

While he declined to “name names,” Moe said more than one MLA and a medical professional asked him to reach out to Ness, a Saskatoon resident who told Global News she first reached out to MLA Randy Weekes to talk about her group’s beliefs.

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He also said he wasn’t aware of the group’s involvement in the aforementioned injunction application, which was also endorsed by Mark Friesen, who has led several protests against public health orders in Saskatchewan.

“There was definitely points where we did not agree, and we were quite open about that,” Moe told reporters.

Ness first requested contact from the premier in a YouTube video posted on Nov. 27 that accumulated more than 20,000 views.

After Ness posted another video in which she spoke of the conversation, Opposition Leader Ryan Meili took issue, first on Monday.

“I thought it was a strange thing for the premier to do,” Meili said in Monday’s question period scrums, pointing out those such as Tristen Durocher who have been vocal but fruitless in efforts to secure a meeting with Moe.

He also referred to Ness as a “right-wing wacko on YouTube.”

“Then you have this radical extremist group that’s been promoting anti-vaccine messages, suddenly he has loads of time for them.”

He didn’t back down from those comments Tuesday, taking further issue with a ‘Doctor’s Letter’ posted to the group’s website that he says contains potentially dangerous misinformation.

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“There’s a whole letter that’s full of false medical information that could make people skeptical of getting vaccines,” he said.

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“There’s a big difference between empathizing with those who have questions and are concerned and encouraging those who are spreading misinformation. That’s where I draw the line.”

Speaking to Global News later Tuesday afternoon, Ness balked at Meili’s representation of Unified Grassroots.

She said her group isn’t anti-vaccine or anti-mask, though she did express that Unified Grassroots does still take issue with the idea of a proof-of-vaccination system.

She said she believes in the effectiveness of the approved vaccines and encourages others to get vaccinated if they want to and said that while she has a medical condition that makes wearing a mask dangerous, she does wear a face shield when out in public places requiring masks.

“Our organization, we’re not anti-vax or anti-mask. We’re not an organization that does massive protests or anything like that. What we’re against is the division and segregation that it creates.,” she said.

Ness says Unified Grassroots has around “14,000 members.” She says that number derives from a Facebook group with around 9,000 members, around 2,000 people signed up for an email subscription and around 3,000 people in a group on Signal.

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Ness added that, while she has no desire to lead the charge, there is some sentiment within the group to turn its membership into a more concrete political movement.

“I do know of a group that is gathering and I think it’s going to gain a lot of momentum but it’s not official yet,” said Ness, who said she isn’t planning on using Unified Grassroots to endorse whatever entity arises.

“It’s not part of the Buffalo Party or any other party. It’s going to be a completely new party. The spokesperson has not been picked yet.”

Ness said moving forward “our focus is on bringing unity in the province.” She said her group is planning food and clothing drives.

One epidemiologist, though, says he takes issue with several points in the aforementioned Unified Grassroots letter.

For example, the letter’s introduction states “consent that is obtained under threat and coercion is automatically rendered morally, legally and medically invalid, and this makes vaccine mandates antithetical to the delivery of healthcare.”

In a written response, the University of Saskatchewan’s Nazeem Muhajarine calls the comment a “misapplication of ethical principles” and points out that there are several other examples of people needing to meet a condition or secure consent in order to do a task or activity, such as to drive a vehicle.

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The letter also states that “Multiple studies confirm that SARS-CoV-2 vaccines in use in Canada do not prevent infection with the covid-19 virus. Nor do they prevent transmission” and cites a pair of studies on breakthrough infections.

Muhajarine says “no vaccines prevent 100% infection or transmission including SCoV2 vaccines.”

“There was never a claim of 100% prevention. However, vaccine trials and real world-data subsequently have shown that SCoV2 vaccines are among the most effective vaccines against respiratory diseases known,” he wrote.

“The risk of hospitalizations and deaths from COVID-19 is much greater among unvaccinated compared to those who are vaccinated – in the order of 20+ times in some population level data. The risks of hospitalization and deaths are the correct metrics to evaluate the effectiveness of these vaccines, not the metrics that are quoted here that show the burden on hospitals due to those who are unvaccinated vs vaccinated.”

The letter also apparently questions the effectiveness of vaccines by referencing a study on vaccine durability out of Israel and states, “unfortunately, their data shows that in Israel the majority of Covid-19 hospitalizations are in fully vaccinated individuals.”

Muhajarine points out that “yes, there is waning of immunity and that is why Israel started administering the third dose in people 60+ in July and 16+ in late Aug.”

“In terms of hospital burden data from Israel, it shows that those who have only two doses versus three doses are four to five times more likely to hospitalized. This shows evidence for vaccine boosting and not vaccine ineffectiveness,” he wrote.

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“The claim in the beginning was that the authors are not opposed to vaccines (in fact, some have been vaccinated) but only opposed to PoVs (proof of vaccination). But here and in subsequent points the claims are all about vaccine efficacy and effectiveness not about PoVs. This demonstrates a break in logic at best, intellectual dishonesty and lack of transparency at worst.

“If there is a violation of Charter rights and freedoms, let it be adjudicated in a court of law, and not by making claims and assertions only,” he concludes.

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