A federal department gave money to a magazine publishing misinformation about the pandemic

As the federal government promised to fight harmful false claims about the spread of the pandemic online, it was giving thousands of dollars to a magazine spreading misinformation about vaccines – including unsubstantiated claims that COVID vaccines -19 could cause cancer in children.

The Department of Canadian Heritage, which helps oversee the government’s response to a growing wave of misinformation online, has confirmed that it has provided more than $17,000 to Common Ground magazine under a special Fund program of Canada for Periodicals to help publications through the pandemic.

The British Columbia publication bills itself as “Western Canada’s largest and best-loved monthly magazine devoted to health, wellness, ecology and personal growth.” He has published several articles on what he calls “the forced coercive medical intervention of Canadians”.

“I think the reason this deserves attention is the potential harm to the public good here,” said Chris Dornan, a retired journalism professor at Carleton University.

“It’s not enough to say, ‘Well, this publication shouldn’t be supported with public funds,’ because all kinds of people find all kinds of opinions objectionable. But you don’t want the resources of the government and Canadian taxpayers’ money to go towards something that harms the public.”

In the past year, Common Ground, which has been around since the 1980s, published an article claiming that measures against COVID-19 had killed more people than the “so-called pandemic”.

He also published an article suggesting that children who receive the vaccine are at risk of developing cancer and becoming infertile later in life.

“The potential for late effects, such as the development of autoimmune diseases, cancer, neurological disorders and infertility, is very relevant for children and young people who have a whole life ahead of them,” says the item.

The Public Health Agency of Canada has repeatedly said there is no evidence that COVID-19 vaccines cause fertility problems in women or men. So far, no credible study has shown a causal relationship between vaccines and cancer.

A Common Ground paper alleging a link between vaccines and cancer argued that the mRNA technology used to produce the most popular COVID vaccines alters DNA forever.

The Canadian Heritage logo seen in the digital copy of Common Ground. (common ground)

The Vaccine Knowledge Project at the University of Oxford, an independent academic research group, said that while mRNA technology produces a harmless version of a spike protein inside the body, that code cannot be incorporated into the body’s DNA.

Another Common Ground article, titled “Say No to Medical Apartheid,” claims that ivermectin — a drug used to rid livestock of parasites that is sometimes prescribed to humans — can reduce COVID mortality.

Health Canada says there is no evidence to suggest ivermectin prevents or treats COVID-19 and warns its consumption could lead to “potential serious health hazards”.

The “Great Reset”

Common Ground has also published a book review backing the notion of the “great reset” — a conspiracy theory that claims a mysterious global elite is exploiting the pandemic to their advantage — and the musings of anti-vaxxer Robert Kennedy Jr. , which claims health officials have “collaborated with mainstream and social media to shut down discussion of key public health and civil rights issues.”

Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. speaks against Democratic vaccination bills on Wednesday, January 8, 2020 in Albany, NY (Hans Pennink/Associated Press)

Common Ground did not respond to CBC’s requests for comment.

The Canada Periodical Fund was created to help publications “overcome market disadvantages and continue to provide Canadian readers with the content they choose to read,” says a government website.

At the start of the pandemic, Canadian Heritage – which has spent millions of dollars fighting online misinformation and disinformation – set up a special sub-program under the Canada Periodical Fund to provide a short-term stimulus funding to Canadian magazines and community newspapers struggling with the pandemic.

Other magazines and newspapers that have received funding include the Pembroke Observer, Airdrie Echo, Disability Today and Canadian Pizza Magazine.

As part of the program’s terms and conditions, recipients must make known government support — which is why the Canadian Heritage logo appears in printed copies of Common Ground.

Candidates also had to sign a statement pledging not to post offensive material, including hate propaganda, child pornography or anything else illegal. The program also prohibits content involving gratuitous violence, material that disparages an identifiable group, and “other similar offensive material.”

The program criteria does not include any language on misinformation – the deliberate creation or sharing of false information with the aim of misleading – or misinformation, the act of sharing information without realizing that it is false.

The ministry says it has the right to audit recipient accounts and records to ensure compliance with the terms of the funding agreement.

“However, for confidentiality reasons, we are unable to provide an answer to your question,” a ministry spokesperson said.

Disinformation professor calls funding ‘bizarre’ and ‘ironic’

Ahmed Al-Rawi is an assistant professor at Simon Fraser University’s School of Communication and head of the university’s Disinformation Project, which describes itself as a research project investigating “false news discourse in the media Canadian news and social media”.

He said that unlike other sources of disinformation and misinformation he sees online, Common Ground has been an established publication for decades.

“What is shocking is that the magazine promotes conspiracies about COVID-19, the pandemic, etc. These conspiracies are even now moderated on mainstream social media,” he said.

“It’s a magazine published here in Vancouver…that receives financial assistance from the government, which is honestly weird. It’s ironic.”

In 2020, Canadian Heritage spent $3.5 million to help Canadians identify misinformation and misleading posts on social media about the COVID-19 pandemic. (Richard Drew/Associated Press)

In the spring of 2020, the Department of Canadian Heritage spent $3.5 million to help Canadians identify misinformation and disinformation and limit the impact of racist and misleading social media posts related to the pandemic.

“A strong democracy depends on Canadians having access to diverse and reliable sources of news and information so that they can form opinions, hold governments and individuals to account, and participate in public debate,” says the ministry website.

Just last week, Canada – as part of a coalition of 34 countries – denounced state-sponsored disinformation campaigns orchestrated by the Russian Federation.

Al-Rawi, who studies disinformation spread in Canada or targeting Canada and has received funding from Canadian Heritage, said that while the money sent to Common Ground may have been the result of an honest mistake, Ottawa could consider updating its criteria and standards.

“We don’t want the government to censor speech and infringe on civil liberties,” he said.

“The problem here is that there is no explanation of what constitutes offense as well as no elaboration or details about other types of content that might be problematic, such as misleading content.”

Concerns about interference with editorial content

The case raises questions about the government’s role in combating disinformation and concerns about interference with editorial content.

“Politics should not decide what is new and what is not,” said Laura Scaffidi, spokeswoman for Heritage Minister Pablo Rodriguez.

“That said, misinformation can lead to racism, violence and stigma and we take it very seriously.”

Dornan – one of the authors of “Shattered Mirror,” a Public Policy Forum report on journalism in Canada – said it was worth looking at the criteria, but cautioned against government intervention. government.

“You don’t want to find yourself in a position where the government is essentially verifying the content of news publications. That’s against the principles of liberal democracy,” he said.

He said that in some ways it is reassuring to learn that the government has not singled out certain editorial viewpoints for its support.

“A lot of the concern about government support for the media sector is that government support would somehow compromise the autonomy or independence of the fourth estate,” he said. declared. “That they would be beholden to the government and so that would somehow influence their coverage of the government and the world at large.

“And in this case, it clearly isn’t.”

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