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Post about Dr. Bonnie Henry's lottery win taken down after negative tweets

Henry had won an early-bird prize of two e-bikes in the May 10 draw — using a random number generator — for a lottery benefiting the $10-million Emerge Stronger fundraising drive

The Victoria Hospitals Foundation says it removed a post about provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry winning a prize in a fundraising lottery on Friday “because it fuelled so much unnecessary hate.”

Henry had won an early-bird prize of two e-bikes in the May 10 draw — using a random number generator — for a lottery benefiting the $10-million Emerge Stronger fundraising drive to buy more than 200 pieces of equipment for Victoria hospitals.

A Twitter post from the foundation included a photograph of Henry wearing a bike helmet with the e-bikes. More than 4,200 tickets were sold in the lottery.

Avery Brohman, the foundation’s CEO, said Monday that information about lottery winners is regularly posted for “full transparency.” In this case, however, “instantaneously, we received negative tweets that were not factual or true, so we decided to take the post down, because it wasn’t serving a benefit.”

In many replies to the post, Henry is criticized for not preventing enough infections, hospitalizations and deaths. The foundation was also rapped for a perception of conflict of interest, although it’s an independent charity that raises funds for medical equipment, special projects, education and research at Victoria’s two main hospitals and Gorge Road Hospital, said Brohman.

She said anyone can purchase a raffle ticket if they are not a foundation member or board member. The foundation also noted that any public lottery is fully regulated by B.C. Gaming.

An account identified as that of Moira Stilwell, a former B.C. Liberal MLA, wrote on Friday: “DBH had the option of asking for another draw. Classless.”

One commentator called it a public relations failure to post about a polarizing figure, but Brohman said the reaction to Henry “was unlike anything I’ve seen before.”

“Anyone supporting our hospitals through a lottery ticket is doing a good thing. And to receive so much negativity, around something that truly is doing the act of good, has been upsetting.”

Brohman said health-care workers have been subjected to “a lot of discrimination and hate,” including protests at hospitals and people leaving hate-filled messages on employees’ windshields.

Henry was travelling on Monday and could not be reached for comment, according to the Health Ministry.

While a March Angus Reid Institute poll found 68 per cent of British Columbians believe Henry has handled the pandemic well, giving her one of the highest approval ratings in the country, former provincial health officer Perry Kendall says ongoing vitriol toward his successor is likely a mixture of misogyny and distrust of authority.

“I think it’s a lot of misogyny,” said Kendall, who retired at 74 in January 2018. “How much of it is hate or distrust, 50-50 maybe? And there’s a lot of people who are just stupid.”

Kendall said he never experienced hate on the same scale, although he was targeted with hate mail and write-in campaigns. “But it wasn’t as personalized or as nasty as this. But we didn’t have such a vitriolic social media, you know, with algorithms that really don’t support empathy.”

He maintains, however, that the bad behaviour online is from a minority of people whose voices are magnified online.

Kendall believes British Columbians will be living with COVID-19 and its strains for many years to come, which may be part of the problem. While some people will want controls “that won’t make a lot of sense from a public health perspective,” others will continue to fight that, he said.

“Bonnie Henry is remarkably resilient,” he added. “I think she must be very very tired.”

ceharnett@timescolonist.com

• The Victoria Hospitals Foundation fundraising campaign lottery continues until Wednesday with the chance to win grand prizes including a 50/50 draw with a jackpot of more than $68,000 and a $20,000 airfare for two.

Note to readers: This story has been corrected; Moira Stilwell is a former B.C. Liberal MLA.

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