According to the top health officials who are coordinating Canada’s COVID-19 response, they have received some abusive feedback that ranges from well-thought-out insults to death threats. However, the majority of public reaction to their work has been positive. On Tuesday, Dr. Bonnie Henry, British Columbia’s top doctor said she received many positive responses, but there are many people who don’t like what she does. Also, she said they are those who don’t like the way she says or don’t like her shoes and feel quite able to send him nasty notes, to leave phone calls, to harass her office staff.
Bonnie added that she had to have security in her house because of death threats. Her statement made headlines after revealing the death threats she had been facing and reporters quized other health officials on how the public had treated them. Public health officers said they had been on the receiving end of some abuse. Dr. Heather Morrison, who serves as the top doctor in PEI, said she had received a small amount of feedback that had been frightening. Morrison said, “Overwhelmingly, it’s been so wonderful,” Morrison told CTV News in an interview. However, she conceded that “there have been threats, at times. It makes me concerned for my family and my children, and my staff.”
Other doctors stated that there had been a heaping of criticism leveled towards them. A spokesperson for Alberta’s Chief Medical Officer of Health, Dr. Deena Hinshaw, said Dr. Hinshaw had received a wide range of correspondence from Albertans.
She had not received death threats or hate mail to date though it included strong personal and professional criticisms.
Dr. Janice Fitzgerald, the Newfoundland and Labrador’s top doctor, said in her Wednesday press conference, “unfortunate” people feel public servants “deserve to be the target of such harassment. In the Public Health Division, we’ve had our share of emails that aren’t necessarily in agreement with some of the things that we have done, but you know, we have to accept that as part of the job, I guess.”
RESEARCH POINTS TO WOMEN FACING MORE CRITICISM ONLINE
A new study found that the numbers reflect what these doctors describe and may indicate gender divide in the negative feedback they face. Erin Kelly, the CEO of Advanced Symbolics Inc., studied the feedback the public health officers face using a randomized, controlled sample of 270,000 Canadians taken from Twitter. Kelly stated that from October 1, 2019, to September 22, 2020, she studied the randomized, controlled sample she taken from Twitter. She indicated that her results had a margin of error of +/- 1%, with a 95% confidence interval 19 times out of 20.
She noted that the overall discussion on Canada’s Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Theresa Tam and Bonnie Henry was “well over 80 percent positive, so overall Canadians feel they’re doing a good job.” Kelly said that they had seen some doctors like Bonnie Henry decline since April. She added that about a quarter of the discussions about Tam were what she would “classify as racist.” Kelly also stated that the bigger picture that people see was a gender bias in how public health officials are being perceived. She explained that “it comes overwhelmingly from men,” when there are negative comments directed at public health officials.