Health officials raise disinformation concerns with MPP Randy Hillier
Ontario MPP Randy Hillier speaks to journalists in his office in the Ontario Legislature in Toronto on Tuesday, March 26, 2019. Hillier returned to Queens Park after being ousted from the Ontario PC Caucus. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chris Young)
OTTAWA -- Public health officials in Kingston have sent a letter to Independent MPP Randy Hillier regarding his comments about COVID-19 and assertions the pandemic is overblown.
Hillier, who sits as an independent for Lanark-Frontenac-Kingston after being kicked out of the Progressive Conservative caucus, said he is against mandatory masks and has shared a number of questionable posts on social media about the pandemic, including some that are completely false conspiracy theories.
A browse of Hillier's Twitter feeds shows posts indicating public health officials are guilty of crimes against humanity based on restrictions put in place for COVID-19 and one that called Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus with the World Health Organization a liar and criminal.
Hillier's riding straddles two health unit areas in the Kingston, Frontenac, Lennox and Addington District Health Unit and the Leeds, Grenville and Lanark District Health Unit, and Kingston public health officials said Thursday they have been in contact with Hillier's office about his comments.
"KFL&A Public Health are aware of Mr. Hillier's comments and posts," a spokeswoman said in a statement, noting a letter had recently been sent to Hillier expressing "concerns" about his comments.
"It was mentioned to Mr. Hillier that over the next couple of months, it will be critical to support our community and to share information on how everyone can best protect themselves by wearing a face covering, practicing good hand hygiene, physically distancing, staying home when sick, and avoiding large crowds," the statement said.
"We also mentioned that we need to do this together so that we protect the health of Ontarians and allow our residences to live healthy lives."
While not mentioning Hillier specifically, Dr. Paula Stewart, Chief Medical Officer for Leeds, Grenville and Lanark asked residents to stick to reliable information about the virus.
“There is a lot of misinformation about COVID-19 so I encourage residents to look for credible sources of information like the Public Health Units, Public Health Ontario, the Ontario Ministry of Health, and the Public Health Agency of Canada,” Stewart said in a statement.
“The science behind COVID-19 is rapidly evolving, so we have seen changes in the recommendations and practices as more information becomes available. The information provided by the Health Unit is based on the latest research evidence.”
During an interview with Newstalk 580 CFRA on Wednesday, Hillier refused to say whether he thought the pandemic was real, said he was anti-mask and likened the current pandemic to a bad flu season.
Hillier's office didn't respond to several phone calls seeking comment on Thursday and Friday but continued to attack the story on social media and posted a defence on his own website Friday morning.
He accused the media of spreading misinformation, not him, despite an avalanche of falsehoods available on his Twitter feed.
He said the word misinformation was not used in the letter he received from Kingston public health officials, despite the copy of the letter he shared showing he was asked to share "reliable information."
Hillier said in his statement he offered to meet with Kingston health officials and discuss their concerns but they were unwilling to meet, "despite my being the elected representative of the people they serve."
"...it’s a large board room, allowing for social distancing and of course, they’d be welcome to wear masks."
Kingston, Frontenac, Lennox and Addington Public Health respond to a request for comment on Hillier's assertions, saying “KFL&A Public Health are available to virtually meet with local representatives. To reduce the risk of COVID-19 KFL&A Public Health are minimizing meetings in person."