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Baldrey: It's sad to see B.C. (still) in a state of hate and intolerance

Columnist Keith Baldrey says he's familiar with receiving criticism, but believes the current social discourse can easily make a person feel "a little tense."
Social media can often become a toxic cesspool run by an anonymous mob, says columnist Keith Baldrey. | nito100 / Getty Images Plus

Whenever I make the mistake of walking past the legislature front lawn on weekends an anti-vaxx protester standing on the sidewalk hurls insults at me (I try to stay on the opposite side of the street).

“You’re a scumbag, Baldrey!” is a favourite line.  Another: “You’re a disgrace!”

Alas, this aggressive, anti-social and hateful behaviour is not an isolated example.

Last week, about 50 protesters gathered outside a Victoria theatre premiering a new documentary about provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry. While most were peaceful, more than a half dozen were trying to intimidate people from entering the theatre.

My wife and I had to walk a gauntlet of these folks, some holding signs demanding that Dr. Henry be fired or even jailed. “You’ll get yours Baldrey,” one shouted after I was inside.

After the showing we left via the back entrance, taking advantage of a hefty police presence that was there partly to protect Dr. Henry from the threats.

It’s almost hard to believe this kind of abusive and hateful behaviour is still happening almost four years after the COVID-19 pandemic was first declared.

Victoria police Chief Del Manak says such behaviour appears to be on the rise and that his officers are keeping a watchful eye.

“We have to send a strong message that behaviour like this will not be tolerated,” he told the Times-Colonist (a Glacier Media publication) in the wake of the theatre incident. “People need to take a breath. They need to cool down.”

He said a strong police presence was needed at the theatre to prevent the protesters from entering. I must admit I was a little tense while waiting in the lobby, as protesters screamed, and some tried to enter without a ticket.

This all happened the same week that Selina Robinson, forced to step down as post-secondary minister after controversial comments about the founding of Israel, received a death threat that is now being investigated by Coquitlam RCMP. Her constituency office was also vandalized with messages that Premier David Eby labeled “hateful.”

The social media attacks on Robinson were relentless and many of a hateful nature themselves. It was yet another example of how social media can often become a toxic cesspool run by an anonymous mob (it’s worth noting the Opposition political parties did not criticize Robinson).

The documentary about Dr. Henry (entitled “Our Time to Be Kind”, by film maker Adrian Buitenhuis) contains references to the threats she has received during the pandemic, including a frightening protest at her Victoria home and email threats (full disclosure: I am interviewed in the film).

The fact that Dr. Henry still needs a security escort almost four years after the pandemic was first declared is a sad and telling indication of the hateful mindset of so many people out there. There appears to be an entrenched, intolerant and hateful element within our social discourse.

In the meantime, I’ll try to continue to avoid the front sidewalk at the legislature on weekends.

Keith Baldrey is chief political reporter for Global BC.