For weeks, many MPs and senators’ offices have been deluged with e-mails from people demanding they stop an imminent move to sign away Canada’s sovereignty to the World Health Organization.
The thing is, that is not happening.
Yet there are apparently lots of people who think it is. And there are a least two candidates for the Conservative leadership who are playing to that crowd. Leslyn Lewis seems to buy into the fears, warning the WHO is going to be handed substantial powers within Canada, and Roman Baber has pledged to withdraw from a WHO “treaty” that hasn’t even been written.
The fear, circulated by conspiracy theorists in the United States and elsewhere, is essentially a two-parter.
One part is a false claim that a potential international agreement on pandemics would give the WHO powers to take control of many things inside countries. Ms. Lewis has made ridiculous claims that the not-yet-drafted agreement would give the WHO power over Canada’s health care system and even allow it to close Canada’s borders.
The other part is that talks this week at a World Health Assembly meeting in Geneva, Switzerland, over U.S. proposals to change international health regulations will suddenly give the WHO new powers that weaken the sovereignty of countries.
Neither part is true. A lot of the claims aren’t even feasible.
Countries from the U.S. to Britain to Brazil won’t be willing to sign over control of their borders, or their health care systems. None has proposed that. And the claim that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau will suddenly and undemocratically sign away powers to the unelected WHO ignores that treaties don’t change Canada’s domestic law until Parliament votes to make it so.
But these claims are getting circulated. Several senators and MPs saw an increase in mass e-mails around the time the truckers convoy came to Ottawa, including the claims about the WHO, often tied with claims about globalist plots to take over the world.
Some were cut and pasted from U.S. e-mails, calling on senators to demand the “president” order officials to vote against the proposed amendments. Several cited conspiracy-theorist sites like InfoWars. But many were signed with Canadian names, addresses, or phone numbers.
Senator Stan Kutcher said he decided to call 25 or 30 people who sent e-mails, to “gently” engage the writers. Most responded bitterly, accusing him of being part of the conspiracy, Mr. Kutcher said. “A couple of people, and it was only a couple, engaged in a discussion,” he said. He sent a few some information. One thanked him.
This wasn’t the first e-mail campaign over bogus fears. But now conspiracy theories are finding their way into mainstream politics.
Tories such as MP Michelle Rempel Garner and former senior staffer Melanie Paradis warn their party must counter what Ms. Paradis called “thought scams.” Ms. Lewis and Mr. Baber are fanning the fears about WHO agreements, while other candidates don’t speak up. After the CBC quoted international lawyers criticizing Ms. Lewis for fear-mongering, she sent an e-mail blast to Tories insisting the “radical left” was minimizing her “legitimate concerns.”
But her claims about a treaty giving the WHO broad powers over Canada’s health care system and even borders are nonsense. As are the e-mails claiming powers are about to be signed away in Geneva.
For starters, the changes to regulations being discussed in Geneva will probably not be approved for a year or two, if then. More importantly, they don’t give the WHO broad new powers. They were sparked by the criticism that the WHO deferred too much to China at the beginning of the COVID-19 outbreak, and would allow the WHO to declare a health emergency is happening in a country, and share information about it even if the country doesn’t like it.
Ms. Lewis’s assertions about what would be in an international agreement that has yet to be written are beyond far-fetched. She insists it will allow the WHO to decide what drugs can be administered and manage health care inside countries. We don’t even know yet if the agreement would be a binding treaty, but certainly 190 countries won’t let the WHO control their health systems, let alone their borders.
And the claim being circulated that Mr. Trudeau will suddenly and undemocratically cede powers to the WHO clashes with Canada’s legal system. “International treaties do not produce effects domestically unless and until Parliament legislates,” noted Dentons international-law expert Stéphane Beaulac, a professor at the University of Montreal.
Yet this kind of conspiracy thinking is part of Canadian politics now.
One problem is that governments don’t respond with plain speech. Ask Health Canada about the WHO, and you will get bureaucratic language about process. Another is that leadership candidates use the Conservative Party stage to make these claims, and other candidates – and MPs – aren’t calling it out.
Editor’s note: An earlier version of this column said some leadership appear to believe false claims that there are imminent plans afoot to cede Canada’s sovereignty to the World Health Organization. Mr. Baber has not stated that he believes that Canada will move imminently to sign away its sovereignty to the World Health Organization.
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