Today has been a very sobering day for so many of us, as we hit a grim one-year mark of the declaration of the COVID-19 pandemic. In Ottawa, we saw all party leaders makes statements of condolence for the more than 22,000 Canadians that we’ve lost. Across the country, flags are flying at half mast to mark this important day. And people everywhere reflecting on everything that past year has brought and everything that we’ve been through.
In many sections of society it seems that most people have understood the importance of this day, given everything we’ve experienced in the past year, in what’s felt like a never-ending March. But at Queen’s Park today we found someone who continues to show that he doesn’t get it, with an ugly display of dog whistling that was appalling, even by this person’s lowly standards. I speak of Ontario Premier Doug Ford, and this interaction with NDP MPP for Kiiwetinoong Sol Mamakwa:
I can’t describe just how disgusted and enraged I am at what happened in that video. I’d be enraged by it on any random day of the week, but to do it on this day, at this time, in this moment, is beyond the pale of ignorance, even for a Ford. I’m enraged for the simplest fact that Ford lied about Mamakwa getting his COVID vaccination through “queue jumping”, trying to suggest that Mamakwa took some kind of sleezy move to get to the front of the line to advantage himself over others. As with many things that Ford says, the facts simply aren’t on his side.
Firstly, as the Globe and Mail’s Willow Fiddler pointed out in a Twitter response shortly after this, Mamawka was invited by Sandy Lake First Nation to receive his second dose of Moderna vaccine there, which he did in March. He was invited to attend their vaccine clinic to help combat vaccine hesitancy, something which is sadly more prevalent in Indigenous communities. It turns out that Mamakwa was not along, as Sandy Lake First Nation also invited Nishnawbe Aski Nation Grand Chief Alvin Fiddler to their vaccine clinic as a way to encourage community members to get their dose. So when asked, Mamakwa went and even told the world about it on Twitter:
Geeze, if someone were trying to “queue jump” you’d think that they wouldn’t be running around Twitter trying to tell everyone about it. It’s almost as if Mamakwa was trying to set the example and show other Indigenous people in the North that getting the Moderna vaccine was safe and the right thing to do. But that apparent fact didn’t stop Ford from his cheapest of drive by smears. Neither did Ford’s own COVID-19 Vaccination prioritization documents, which show us this:
Yes folks Mamakwa, along with all Indigenous adults in Ontario are to be vaccinated in Phase 1, period. No age ranges, no qualification about workplaces or other things, none of that. All Indigenous adults, period, end of story. So when Mamakwa was getting vaccinated, he was following the Ford Governments own plan to stop this bloody disease. He wasn’t jumping the queue, he was taking his proper place in it. What is seriously so hard to understand about that for Dougie Boy???
But instead of congratulating Mamakwa for being vaccinated, or even taking credit for the fact that his government properly prioritized Indigenous peoples for vaccination in Ontario, Doug laid one of the ugliest accusations one could level at a fellow Canadian in his moment. He tried to claim that Mamakwa as a cheater, that he was trying to game the system, and therefore was some kind of bad person. The fact that he laid that claim at an Indigenous person comes with all kinds of insinuations of its own and if Ford didn’t know that he damn well should have.
I believe that he knew though because when you look at the context of the whole conversation, Mamakwa was daring to ask Premier Ford questions about his plan. And when Ford gets questions he doesn’t like, he lashes out at them with insults and cheap attacks, no matter how bad they sound. It’s his default move and even in the worst of moments continues to do it. He did it to Ontario NDP Leader Andrea Horwath a few weeks ago with his “nails on the chalkboard” comment, and he did it again today to the Legislatures only First Nations MPP. It’s been interesting to see the Queen’s Park press gallery so far treat this incident differently, with some even asking if it’s a “cheap shot or fair”? That galling bit deserves its own piece, and we’ll get back to that sometime, but as an Indigenous person in Ontario, I’m sadly not shocked to see that play out.
In the meantime, it goes without saying that Ford owes Mamakwa the most unreserved apology possible. Ford should thank him for doing his part to ensure that the Ontario governments attempt to vaccinate are going better, for doing his job as an elected leader in this province. Those are all things that Ford should do, but you know that he won’t. He doesn’t apologize, he attacks. He doesn’t apologize when he flaunts his own COVID-19 public health measures when it suits him, like with his bloody cheesecake episode from earlier this year. So to expect him to apologize for what he did today is to expect something that won’t happen.
But it’s what he should do, period. In the north we’re already dealing with incidents in Kenora that have shown how racism during COVID has made things more difficult for so many. Words like Ford’s today feed into that exact kind of sentiment and only make it harder for our communities to do what we must to get out of this bloody pandemic. Leaders do what they can to help people overcome those difficulties, not make them worse to score the cheapest of political points. Doug Ford like to claim that he’s a leader but incidents like this today show that he’s far from it. He’s a petty politico who doesn’t care about the greater good when it doesn’t suit him. If he wants to prove me wrong, he’ll apology to Mamakwa without delay. I want Ford to prove me wrong here but don’t expect me to be holding my breath.
UPDATE: 2:47 PM – Not only is the Premier refusing to back down on this awful attack, we are now hearing from Chief Gordon Beardy of Muskrat Dam. He’s confirmed to CTV News that “they asked MPP Sol Mamakwa to fly-in and get the Moderna vaccine to help dispel hesitancy.” You can hear his words below.