Health Minister Patty Hajdu says it’s “unfortunate” that Conservative MP Derek Sloan opted to support a petition that she said is “full of misinformation” regarding a coronavirus vaccine.
Sloan sponsored a parliamentary e-petition in early November calling into question the safety of a potential coronavirus vaccine. The petition also states that “bypassing proper safety protocols means COVID-19 vaccination is effectively human experimentation.”
This comes as both public health and government officials have provided repeated assurances that Health Canada will only approve a vaccine that is rigorously tested and safe to use. Sloan has not said whether he agrees with the contents of the petition.
Meanwhile, the e-petition already has more than 25,000 signatures — meaning the government will eventually be forced to issue a response.
“It’s unfortunate to see politicians utilize their power to provide misinformation to Canadians when what Canadians need is clear, concise, science-based evidence,” said Hajdu, speaking to reporters on Friday.
“The government of Canada continually works against misinformation, from the beginning of COVID-19.”
When Global News reached out to Sloan on Wednesday, he said he believes it’s important to ensure Canadians get the opportunity to voice their concerns.
“My office did not draft the petition, but I do believe that citizens have a right to raise any questions they feel are important to public health and safety,” Sloan said.
E-petitions cannot be tabled without the sponsorship of an elected member of Parliament. Because of this reality, quite a few parliamentarians sponsor e-petitions they disagree with so they can give their constituents a voice.
In this case, the sponsor is from Dorchester, Ont., which is not in Sloan’s riding. However, Sloan did say in a statement that he generally sponsors any e-petition that he feels reflects concerns his constituents have.
“Petitions are an important democratic tool, and it has been my policy to sponsor petitions, particularly those that dovetail with questions and concerns that are raised by constituents,” Sloan said in a statement emailed to Global News.
“On the issue of the COVID vaccine rollout, I’ve received hundreds of questions from constituents.”
Sloan did not directly address Global News’ explicit question as to whether or not he personally supports the contents of the petition.
However, Sloan said that by answering the questions in the petition, the government can “increase public trust.”
“I do not agree that by asking relevant, timely questions about various COVID-19 vaccine candidates that a person is therefore somehow fuelling ‘anti-vaccine sentiment,’ as you have characterized it,” he added, responding to Global News’ question about whether he is concerned that the petition could boost anti-vaccine sentiment.
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Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was also asked about Sloan’s decision on Friday, prompting him to emphasize the fact that vaccine safety is a top priority for the government and regulators.
“The work that Health Canada is doing to ensure that this vaccine — that every vaccine that is approved — is safe for Canadians is uncompromising. There are no corners cut,” Trudeau said.
“As we move forward, it is extremely important that support for scientists, in doctors, in health professionals, and local public health authorities continues to be shared. That’s why it behooves every parliamentarian to stand up for science to support the work of our experts who are working extremely hard to keep Canadians safe.”
Hajdu also noted that she’s worked hard to ensure that health agencies remain arm’s length from government – a reality that keeps politics removed from regulatory approvals.
“It’s important for the confidence of Canadians to know that politicians are not the ones making decisions about whether or not vaccines are safe or whether or not drugs are safe, whether or not medical equipment is accurate enough,” she said.
She added that the government is working hard to ensure it combats any misinformation that is spreading regarding vaccines.
“We work as a government to provide credible information in a variety of different ways … we’ve got a host of information on a regular basis going out to Canadians,” Hajdu said.
“Vaccine hesitancy is real and certainly I would hope that elected officials would not contribute to people’s fear of science-based public health advice.”
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