Canada’s Chief Public Health Officer doctor Theresa Tam responds to a question during a news conference Tuesday October 20, 2020 in Ottawa. Canada’s chief public health doctor says in the age of social media, fake news about the COVID-19 pandemic has been spreading faster than the virus itself. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld

Canada’s Chief Public Health Officer doctor Theresa Tam responds to a question during a news conference Tuesday October 20, 2020 in Ottawa. Canada’s chief public health doctor says in the age of social media, fake news about the COVID-19 pandemic has been spreading faster than the virus itself. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld

VIDEO: Fake news creates serious issues for battling pandemic, chief public health doc says

Both Tam and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau urged Canadians to be responsible about the information they share

Canada’s chief public health doctor is worried about the amount of false information being floated about the COVID-19 pandemic.

Dr. Theresa Tam says when false information is spread — either intentionally or not — it does not help public health officials ensure the public has the information they need to make the right choices.

“As I reflect on the unprecedented pandemic that we have, there’s also I think the pandemic that’s occurred in the age of social media, and many different ways in which information is spread faster than the virus itself,” Tam said Tuesday at one of her regular news conferences on Parliament Hill.

Both Tam and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau urged Canadians to be responsible about the information they share by verifying it first with multiple and official sources.

“When you look at a piece of information, ask a number of questions, including exactly where this has come from,” said Tam. “Definitely ask yourself this question before you forward the information to someone else.”

Staff in the Prime Minister’s Office confirmed they respond frequently to queries about fake news. Some of it arises in other countries and is picked up here, sometimes it’s Canada-specific.

Trudeau said some of it comes from “foreign actors trying to disrupt successful democracies, others are people with extremist agendas within our countries trying to weaken people’s confidence in our institutions and our democracy.”

In many cases it has a real impact. A survey by health authorities in Quebec in August found about one-quarter of people in that province believed COVID-19 was created in a laboratory on purpose and a third felt the government was hiding things about the pandemic.

Other surveys have found people who believed conspiracy theories about the virus’s origins were less likely to follow public health advice about wearing masks, physical distancing and limiting contacts.

Trudeau said he was asked by a student in a recent forum about “COVID internment camps.”

“I had to explain that as we consume increasing amounts and various sources of information online and around us, we need to continue to be attentive to source, we need to continue to be attentive to comparing various reports and looking for trusted sources like Dr. Tam, like regional public health authorities, to tell the truth,” Trudeau said. “We need to hold together and resist people who would sow chaos within our communities (and) our democracy.”

The internment camps claim arose recently after Health Canada posted a request for information online seeking a business that might be able to help manage the government’s quarantine sites.

Health Canada has managed 11 quarantine sites in nine cities for travellers arriving from abroad who don’t have suitable places to quarantine, such as someone who lives with a senior citizen and whose home doesn’t have space to isolate from the high-risk individual for two weeks.

The department is now potentially looking for a third-party operator to manage quarantine sites.

Cole Davidson, press secretary for Health Minister Patty Hajdu, said the claims that quarantine sites are Canadian internment camps for people with COVID-19, are absolutely false.

“These emails and social media posts about ‘isolation camps’ are an example of false information being used to play on fears over a public health issue,” Davidson said. “Disinformation like this is intended to deceive Canadians and cause fear and confusion.”

Another claim floating around currently is that the federal government is making up the pandemic in a bid to generate public support for both a universal guaranteed income, and to relieve all household and consumer debt in Canada.

A spokesman for Trudeau said that claim has no basis in reality.

READ MORE: Canada ‘yet to see’ deaths due to recent COVID surge as cases hit 200,000

Mia Rabson, The Canadian Press


Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Want to support local journalism during the pandemic? Make a donation here.

Coronavirusfake newsvideo

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

In this file photo from 2019, Tammy Burrows of the Wild Women of the North Society organizes the donations before the group of volunteers begins assembling Christmas hampers Dec. 22 at the Quesnel Tillicum Society Native Friendship Centre. The society is collecting food hamper items again this winter, along with winter clothing and warm gear. (Quesnel Cariboo Observer File Photo)
There are many ways to help fill Christmas hampers in and around Quesnel

Many businesses, volunteers and the RCMP are collecting hamper items over the next few weeks

A masked statue of Billy Barker sits on top of his namesake casino in downtown Quesnel. As we head into the weekend, Northern Health is urging residents to follow all provincial health orders, which include mandatory masks inside all indoor spaces. (Cassidy Dankochik Photo - Quesnel Cariboo Observer)
A masked statue of Billy Barker sits on top of his namesake casino, eight months to the day it was closed to help stop the spread of COVID-19. Owner Brad Kotzer said they won’t be opening in 2020. (Cassidy Dankochik Photo - Quesnel Cariboo Observer)
Northern Health urges residents to respect COVID-19 rules

The number of COVID-19 cases has been growing, and Northern Health saw 35 new cases from Nov. 26-27

Coralee Oakes won 48.42 per cent of ballots in the Cariboo North district in the October election, en route to winning a third term as MLA. (Photo Submitted)
Cariboo North MLA sworn in, despite technical difficulties

Coralee Oakes began her third term as the region’s MLA but couldn’t attend the virtual ceremony

Dr. Richard McAloney, an adjunct professor in the school of business at the University of Northern British Columbia, is the founding director of the new Centre for Technology Adoption for Aging in the North. (University of Northern British Columbia Facebook Photo)
New innovation hub aims to bridge the technology adoption gap northern B.C.

The Centre for Technology Adoption for Aging in the North is hosted at UNBC

The Quesnel RCMP detachment will be donating the goods collected for the holiday season to four local charities. (Quesnel RCMP)
Quesnel RCMP hoping to ‘stuff a cruiser’

Items donated on Dec. 6 and 7 will be given to four local charities

Mary Cox and Jack Plant dance in their pyjamas and slippers at the morning pyjama dance during the Rhythm Reelers’ 25 Annual Rally in the Valley Square Dance Festival in Chilliwack on June 4, 2011. Sunday, Nov. 29, 2020 is Square Dancing Day. (Jenna Hauck/ Chilliwack Progress file)
Unofficial holidays: Here’s what people are celebrating for the week of Nov. 29 to Dec. 5

Square Dancing Day, Disability Day and International Ninja Day are all coming up this week

Black Press Media and BraveFace have come together to support children facing life-threatening conditions. Net proceeds from these washable, reusable, three-layer masks go to Make-A-Wish Foundation BC & Yukon.
Put on a BraveFace: Help make children’s wishes come true

Black Press Media, BraveFace host mask fundraiser for Make-A-Wish Foundation

114 Canadians were appointed Nov. 27 to the Order of Canada. (Governor General of Canada photo)
Indigenous actor, author, elder, leaders appointed to Order of Canada

Outstanding achievement, community dedication and service recognized

More than 60 cm of snow has fallen at Ulkatcho First Nation near Anahim Lake in the Chilcotin since a snowfall warning went into effect Thursday, Nov. 26. (Graham West photo)
VIDEO: More than 60 cm of snowfall in Chilcotin since Thursday, Nov. 26

Graham West of Ulkatcho First Nation captures the scene on video

Screenshot of Pastor James Butler giving a sermon at Free Grace Baptist Church in Chilliwack on Nov. 22, 2020. The church has decided to continue in-person services despite a public health order banning worship services that was issued on Nov. 19, 2020. (YouTube)
2 Lower Mainland churches continue in-person services despite public health orders

Pastors say faith groups are unfairly targeted and that charter rights protect their decisions

A big job: Former forests minister Doug Donaldson stands before a 500-year-old Douglas fir in Saanich to announce preservation of some of B.C.’s oldest trees, July 2019. (B.C. government)
B.C. returning to ‘stand-alone’ forests, rural development ministry

Horgan says Gordon Campbell’s super-ministry doesn’t work

Peter Wilson, left, and Micah Rankin, right, formed the Special Prosecutor team that was tasked with reviewing and litigating charges stemming from the Bountiful investigation. Trevor Crawley photo.
End of Bountiful prosecution wraps up decades of legal battles

Constitutional questions had to be settled before a polygamy prosecution could move forward

Alexandre Bissonnette, who pleaded guilty to a mass shooting at a Quebec City mosque, arrives at the courthouse in Quebec City on February 21, 2017. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Mathieu Belanger - POOL
Court strikes down consecutive life sentences; mosque shooter has prison term cut

The decision was appealed by both the defence and the Crown

Gold medallists in the ice dance, free dance figure skating Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir, of Canada, pose during their medals ceremony at the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea, Tuesday, Feb. 20, 2018. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP-Charlie Riedel
Olympic champions Virtue, Moir and Tewksbury among 114 Order of Canada inductees

Moir and Virtue catapulted to national stardom with their gold-medal performances at the Winter Olympics in 2018

Most Read