In 1989, when New Age was still a relatively new thing, Joseph Roberts started publishing a free paper called Common Ground.
Based in a Kitsilano bungalow in the former hippie heart of Vancouver, Common Ground appealed to people interested in alternative therapies, spirituality and ecology and attracted writers like David Suzuki, the environmental guru and Kits resident.
For years, it’s been a mainstay on racks in grocery stores, health food stores, vegetarian restaurants, yoga studios and bookstores specializing in something beyond the latest potboilers. Mention Common Ground to Vancouverites and almost everyone has read it at one time or another.
But last spring, Roberts appears to have turned the print and online magazine into a conduit for anti-vaccination and anti-masking messaging and conspiracy theories.
“The epi-pandemic is overhyped by the pharma elite who want us all to obey their mandates and consume their overpriced, poorly tested, questionable vaccines and have us join their cult of COVID-faithful customers,” Roberts explained to readers.
Accusing politicians of “pimping” for pharmaceutical companies, he wrote that vaccines have a one-in-40 chance of producing an adverse effect.
That’s not true, according to Health Canada. As of Oct. 1, Health Canada said it has had reports of 17,982 adverse events — that’s 0.032 per cent of the 56.15 million doses given or one in 3,122. Of those, 4,675 (0.008 per cent or one in 12,000) were considered serious.
Roberts’s distrust of medical doctors and pharmaceutical medications dates to when he was 20 and had tonsillitis. He told readers that he cured himself by refusing to take medication, letting the infection take its course, allowing his body to build immunity to it and maintaining a healthy lifestyle ever since.
It’s a compelling narrative except for the embedded belief that there is nothing that clean living and eating well can’t cure. Polio, diabetes, malaria and even cancer disprove that narrative.
Just to be clear, I’m not suggesting that Common Ground should be banned or censored. That said, if shop owners decide that they no longer want to provide free space on a shelf for Common Ground, I’m certainly not going to name or shame them.
If anything, Common Ground is a useful tool for gaining a more nuanced picture of anti-vaxxers.
Far from all being overweight, poorly educated, gun-toting, religious rubes from the Prairies who vote for the People’s Party of Canada, they may be as likely to be vegans in Nelson, eco-warriors with crystals and Kitsilano moms with yoga mats tucked under their arms.
The common ground shared by these seemingly disparate groups is a deep distrust of politicians and disaffection from political institutions, mainstream media, science and modern medicine.
The anti-vax messages being shared permeate any notional definitions of left- and right-wing. Heal-thyselfers like Roberts are often publishing the same article that’s being shared by a blogger who might admire white supremacists and Holocaust deniers or is being passed along by Robert Kennedy Jr., a prince of the famous American Democratic family.
Research done by Christopher Shaw, a professor in the medical faculty at the University of British Columbia, is a case in point. He’s a social activist who has protested pipelines, was a high-profile opponent of the 2010 Winter Olympics and was among those pepper-sprayed during the 1997 APEC meetings on the UBC campus.
Common Ground’s current edition has a rapturous review of his book, Dispatches from the Vaccine Wars.
“Professor Christopher A. Shaw’s brilliance shines through in this captivating information powerhouse,” writes Amy L. Newhook, adding that Shaw “pulls back the curtain on the official narrative, cloaked by mainstream hypnotic messaging: Vaccines are safe and effective, trust the science, the science is settled, trust the experts.”
Newhook doesn’t mention that Shaw has twice had to retract his research after it’s been published. The first in a 2016 edition of the journal, Vaccine, linked aluminum in the human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine to adverse effects. It was withdrawn due to what the journal described as “serious concerns regarding the scientific soundness of the article” and methodology that was “seriously flawed.”
The second in the Journal of Inorganic Biochemistry in 2017 linked the aluminum adjuvants in vaccines to immune responses that were “consistent with those in autism.”
When challenged to produce the data, Shaw was unable to. He said it had disappeared when — against UBC’s rules — a former post-doctoral student took the images and notebooks with her when she returned to China.
Two American foundations with links to the Democratic Party — the Dwoskin Family Foundation and the Katlyn Fox Foundation — partly funded Shaw’s work, including the two retracted studies.
The Dwoskin family were major donors to the U.S. Democratic Party and to Claire Dwoskin’s non-profit Children’s Medical Safety Research Institute, according to Influence Watch.
The Katlyn Fox Foundation’s website continues to prominently display Shaw’s discredited research linking aluminum in vaccines to autism, while its home page links to a host of anti-vaxxer groups including Vaccine Choice Canada and Robert Kennedy’s non-profit, Children’s Health Defense.
The Children’s Health Defense’s home page in turn features Kennedy, whose articles have appeared in Common Ground. Kennedy topped the list of Anti-Vax Watch’s “disinformation dozen,” following its analysis of 812,000 Twitter and Facebook posts with anti-vaccine content between Feb. 1 and March 16.
Of those 812,000 posts, 65 per cent were attributable to 12 people.
Both Kennedy’s and Shaw’s books with anti-vaccine content are published by New York-based Skyhorse Publishing.
Skyhorse’s owner Tony Lyons declined to specify its standards for ensuring factual accuracy when asked by Vanity Fair writer Kezieh Weir.
Instead, Lyons told Weir, “It’s dangerous to assume that just because you disagree with the conclusions of a book, it’s therefore inaccurate and should be censored.”
Because of its distribution agreement with Simon & Schuster, Skyhorse’s authors reach a much broader audience. Its books are distributed to more plebeian audiences through Walmart, Target, Amazon and Indigo.
And it bears noting that Simon & Schuster’s online review of Shaw’s book is strikingly similar to Common Ground’s and includes a lavish blurb from Ted Kuntz.
Kuntz is self-described psychotherapist with a master’s degree in education. He is president of Vaccine Choice Canada. Soon after Kuntz’s son was vaccinated, he was diagnosed as autistic, which led Kuntz to believe there was a link between the two. Vaccine Choice Canada’s website does provide a link to “pro-vaccine” websites and the American Academy of Pediatrics has a comprehensive list of peer-reviewed studies that debunk the link between autism and vaccines.
Kuntz’s son died a few years ago. His death coincided with the end of Kuntz’s term as chair of Vancouver-based non-profit Planned Lifetime Advocacy Network. PLAN helps families and people with disabilities build personal support networks.
Because of his anti-vaccination views, his appointment was not renewed, executive director Rebecca Pauls said in an interview.
“I know Ted really well and know his positions and the way he has acted since COVID. While we care about Ted and are concerned about him … he is no longer affiliated with us in any way,” said Pauls, who coincidentally was self-isolating at home after having tested positive for COVID.
So great was PLAN’s concern about Kuntz’s views that it has scrubbed all references to him from its website.
Although Pauls said PLAN has no official position on vaccinations, she noted that it is working on a project called Ready for My Shot, featuring a young man with Down syndrome talking about how he overcame his vaccination fears.
Using language from the pro-choice on abortion movement, Kuntz defends the right to choose vaccinations.
“What is being played out on the world’s stage is a referendum on humanity’s freedoms,” he wrote in the August-September edition of Common Ground.
“What is being decided, with little thought or discussion, is whether individuals have the right to medical choice, bodily sovereignty, and informed consent, and whether parents have the right to make medical decisions for their children, or whether medical choice belongs to the state.”
In March, Kuntz was interviewed on Faytene TV, a YouTube channel hosted by B.C.-based, Christian evangelist Faytene Kryskow, who made it clear that she is not opposed to vaccinations. As part of its ban on vaccine dis- and misinformation, YouTube removed the video after I viewed it.
Kuntz railed against public health officers and mainstream media.
“Look at the science or lack of it and a reasonable risk-benefit analysis,” he said. “There is no good reason to be taking this vaccine or this medical product. We shouldn’t even be calling it a vaccine.”
He decried the “censorship of world-class scientists and researchers.” And in his Common Ground article headlined Say No to Medical Apartheid, Kuntz said that there is “robust evidence that Ivermectin reduces mortality by 80 per cent.”
That’s not true, according to Ivermectin maker, Merck. In a statement earlier this year, Merck said its analysis of emerging studies found: “No scientific basis for a potential therapeutic effect against COVID-19,” no evidence of clinical efficacy in COVID patients, and “a concerning lack of safety data in the majority of studies.”
Organic cattle rancher and “investigative writer” Julius Ruechel might have seemed a more authoritative voice on Ivermectin, which is often used as an animal dewormer. But instead, Ruechel urges Common Ground readers to find the courage to “break the spell,” “stand up to tyranny” and say no to mandatory vaccinations.
On his blog, a similar message is illustrated with the Gadsden flag — a snake on a yellow background — from the American Revolutionary War that has recently reappeared and was carried by some of the insurrectionists who stormed the U.S. Congress on Jan. 6, 2021.
“Neither police nor politicians nor courts will come to your rescue as the regime oversteps its limits,” Ruechel wrote on his blog. “The brakes of our liberal democracy are gone. There is no telling how far this will go if it is not stopped soon. What happens next largely depends on how many have the courage to speak out against this slide into tyranny.”
He was recently interviewed for a “truthcast” on Strong and Free Canada. On its home page, Strong and Free Canada lists its “partners” who are testament to the blurring of right and left.
They include: the People’s Party of Canada, the Wildrose Independence Party of Alberta, Street Church Ministries, the anti-globalism Grizzly Patriot, Misty Wind Media (run by a hair colourist and “freedom fighter”), and Calgary-based Vivid Psychology and Wellness.
But the ugly anger that’s bubbled over at a few anti-vaccine rallies is most apparent on Common Ground’s contributor Chris Schaefer’s website, CovFefe Operations + Intelligence.
It likens Ontario Premier Doug Ford’s government to the Nazis and has a manipulated photo of Canada’s chief public health officer, Theresa Tam, in a People’s Liberation Army uniform under the image of Chinese Premier Xi Jinping.
Unlike the others, Schaefer appears less likely to be comfortable with the Common Ground crowd. The website’s so-called legal disclaimer, says there is “language and verbiage that may or may not be suitable for children under the age of 16, the same age limit as that for engaging in sodomy, pushed by the Sodomite Party of Canada.”
It goes on to say that for anyone not offended by COVID restrictions put in place by Ontario Premier Doug Ford and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, “You’ve gotta ask yourself, ‘Do I really want some Soylent Green (a fictional meal replacement made from human bodies) for breakfast, lunch, and dinner?’
“After that, just fuck off and do what you do. Unless you’re a fat potato, in which case, just go get fried, or baked.
“Remember, we’ve still got pitchforks, jackass.”
But here are a couple of other things to remember.
Worldwide, COVID-19 has resulted in the deaths of 4.8 million people and sickened more than 236 million others.
It has forced provinces like Alberta to call in the military, the Red Cross and accept help from other provinces after its intensive care units couldn’t handle all of the COVID patients.
And the overwhelming majority of those in ICU are people who refused to get vaccinated.