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Politicians hanged in effigy at protest at B.C. legislature reflect disturbing trend: expert

Click to play video: 'B.C. MLAs facing threats of violence'
B.C. MLAs facing threats of violence
Politicians in our province are increasingly facing threats and actual violence. Earlier this week, B.C.'s forests minister was knocked to the ground as she walked home from the legislature and as Emad Agahi reports, an MLA also had a close call at his office on Wednesday. – Dec 11, 2021

An expert on extremism and political radicalization says a disturbing display outside the B.C. legislature this week reflects a troubling trend.

British Columbia’s premier and two senior ministers were hanged in effigy outside the province’s legislature at a rally organized by COVID-19 vaccine mandate opponents on Thursday.

The event was promoted as a “sunset candlelight ceremony” to mark the 75th anniversary of the trial of Nazi scientists who conducted horrific human experiments on Jews and other targets of the regime. Seven of those doctors were executed for war crimes.

Speakers addressed what they called the erosion of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms amid the COVID-19 response, and touted Ivermectin, a deworming medication that health officials have warned against as treatment for the virus.

Demonstrators in the crowd carried signs with messages reading “voluntary consent,” “medical choice,” and “COVID crimes against humanity.”

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Read more: COVID-19: What are the political, moral impacts of anti-vaccine protests at hospitals?

The claim that the vaccine is actually an “experiment” and therefore runs afoul of the code of medical ethics developed during the Nuremberg trials, has grown in popularity among opponents of COVID policy in recent months.

Thursday’s effigy display consisted of figures in white protective suits with the faces of Premier John Horgan, Health Minister Adrian Dix and Public Safety Minister Mike Farnworth, hanged by the neck. A fourth figure, with an orange balloon protruding from its face, was not clearly visible in footage reviewed by Global News.

Rally spokesperson and Common Ground publisher Joseph Roberts said the people who were displaying the hanged effigies were not invited to the event.

“We tried to remove them, but they were not willing to move … and we talked to security as well. Did security come and remove them? No, they didn’t,” he said. “It had nothing to do with the essence and what the organization had in this event.”

Click to play video: 'Protecting access to healthcare for all British Columbians'
Protecting access to healthcare for all British Columbians

The otherwise peaceful crowd of several hundred people heard speeches from Brian Peckford, former premier of Newfoundland and Labrador, and Dr. Daniel Nagase, a medical doctor who says he was fired from an Alberta hospital for promoting Ivermectin, lit candles and sang “O Canada” against the backdrop of the hanged figures on the legislature steps.

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Victoria police could not immediately confirm whether they were investigating the effigy display.

The B.C. government did not make someone available for an interview for this story but Attorney General David Eby issued a statement calling the display “unacceptable.”

“Implied or actual threats of violence are totally unacceptable,” he said.

Read more: COVID-19: Protesters target several B.C. hospitals, decry vaccine ‘tyranny’

“One of the things that makes Canada and British Columbia a wonderful place to live is that we can strongly disagree without threatening each other’s safety. When people cross that line and move to threats and physical intimidation as a political tactic or for any other reason, it’s up to all of us to speak out against this threat to everyone’s quality of life.“

Click to play video: 'Protest, graffiti mar B.C. Remembrance Day events'
Protest, graffiti mar B.C. Remembrance Day events

Edwin Hodge, a University of Victoria sociology professor and expert on radicalization and extremism said he was skeptical that the effigies were not an accepted part of the demonstration.

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“These effigies weren’t just on the fringes of the rally, they were behind the stage. It stretches, let’s just say it, it strains credulity,” he said.

Hodge said the event itself, which centred on the Nuremberg trials and the executions of Nazi war criminals, was in itself disturbing.

He pointed to a page promoting the event in the alternative publication Common Ground — listed as an event sponsor — that drew a direct connection between the execution of Nazi doctors and the actions of current politicians and medical officials.

Read more: Entire B.C. school district to go into lockdown after vaccine protesters enter 3 schools

“The first sentence of their article is the medical doctors at Nuremberg were tried and executed for their atrocities. That subtext isn’t all that sub,” Hodge said.

“So you have the hanging in effigy, you have an explicit statement [that] medical doctors who practiced these atrocities were put to death. And then in the immediate next few sentences, an explicit linking of contemporary medical doctors who perform vaccinations to those Nazi war criminals.”

Roberts denied the event or the article promoting it was in any way advocating violence against public officials.

“I’m not asking for the execution of the government,” he said, adding that the purpose of the rally was to draw attention to what he believed was vaccine coercion and the erosion of charter rights.

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“The government has slowly eroded (them), they’re focused more on the loopholes than the spirit of the law,” he said.

Click to play video: 'Backlash and anger after anti-vaccine protestors target B.C. hospitals'
Backlash and anger after anti-vaccine protestors target B.C. hospitals

Hodge said the effigy display was the latest sign of a troubling shift towards violent language and imagery in political movements in recent years.

B.C.’s health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry has said she’s been forced to hire security amid threats of violence, and in July 2020, an armed Manitoba man was arrested after trespassing on the grounds of Rideau hall allegedly trying to speak to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and send him a message.

In 2019, at the height of “yellow vest” protests, Facebook was forced to take action after multiple incidents of people threatening violence against the prime minister.

Read more: B.C. introduces legislation to stop protests at schools, hospitals, vaccination clinics

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That same year, a Kamloops, B.C., radio host went to the RCMP after receiving a torrent of threats after featuring a researcher on extremism talking about the growing online “fetishization of murder.”

Hodge said the public should not dismiss the creep of violent language and imagery into political protest, which may have the power to inspire actual violence.

“Rhetoric precedes action, right? So the first thing that happens in a lot of these movements is the dehumanization and not just vilification, but almost casting the opponent as evil.”

“And that acceptance, that’s where things get very, very dangerous, because once you’ve vilified your opponent to the extent that you claim that they’re evil, and once you begin saying things [such as] ‘doctors today are exactly like Nazi doctors back in the past and they were executed,’ what’s next?” he asked.

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