Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole wouldn’t say Thursday if he has a problem with MP Derek Sloan’s sponsoring of an electronic petition that falsely casts doubt on the safety of COVID-19 vaccines at a time when the Tory leader is pushing to see vaccinations in Canada.
At a press conference in Ottawa, O’Toole faced several questions about Sloan’s involvement with an e-petition that calls COVID-19 vaccine developments “rushed,” and claims that “bypassing proper safety protocols means COVID-19 vaccination is effectively human experimentation.”
Watch: O’Toole presses Liberals for details of vaccine rollout plan
The petition was launched by Gisele Baribeau, the director of anti-vaccine group, Vaccine Choice Canada. It calls for the government to launch an independent committee that will include “citizen vaccine-safety advocates” and to “legally ensure COVID19 vaccines are voluntary.”
Canadians cannot directly present a petition to the House of Commons, which is why they must be sponsored by an MP. Though the vaccine petition has amassed nearly 24,000 signatures in a month, which means the government will need to table a formal response, experts told The Globe and Mail the petition contains false information and ignores the clinical trials and strict regulatory oversight behind vaccine candidates.
Asked if he supports Sloan’s sponsoring the petition, O’Toole instead turned the focus to the Liberal government. A lack of transparency from Ottawa about its vaccine distribution plan is causing anxiety and uncertainty, he said.
“This is the worst health crisis in generations and that’s why we need a plan… a plan will actually help provide details, and help educate Canadians on the research and approvals of vaccines, how they’ll be stored so that they can be used effectively, how they can be rolled out first to the most vulnerable and then to other Canadians,” O’Toole said.
“This is why information is a tool just as important as rapid tests and vaccines. Canadians are already worried.”
More details from the government will help bring certainty to Canadians about not only their pandemic response but “the efficacy of the vaccine,” the Tory leader said.
O’Toole also would not say if Sloan, who ran against O’Toole for the Tory leadership and finished fourth in the contest, will face any consequences for sponsoring the petition.
Asked if he spoke to the MP about the petition, O’Toole replied generally, saying his team of MPs speak in weekly caucus meetings. He also downplayed the importance of “petitions sent in from Canadians across the country” when compared to the need for a vaccination plan for 38 million Canadians.
“You wonder why there are questions? Because we have a government that has been wrong on masks, wrong on human-to-human transmission, slow on all responses, partnering with China, and not answering basic questions like: do we have freezers ordered for the vaccine?” he said, weaving in Tory criticisms from the earliest days of the COVID-19 pandemic with its current focus on vaccines.
“You wonder why Canadians are worried? It’s the secrecy and incompetence of the Trudeau government.”
Earlier, O’Toole claimed that while pharmaceutical companies have “managed to produce safe and effective vaccines in record time,” the Liberal government isn’t meeting the moment.
“Justin Trudeau has set September as a possible vaccination objective,” O’Toole said, referencing the prime minister’s words last week that the majority of Canadians could be inoculated by then.
“Just think about that? Ten more months of business closures, of limitations, rising mental health issues, domestic violence, drug abuse. We all have learned the tragic costs of a shuttered economy.”
Tories pressing for vaccine rollout details
The Tory leader noted that the United States is planning to have 100 million people vaccinated by the end of February, and the United Kingdom plans to deliver the first doses of the vaccine from Pfizer and BioNTech next week.
The Trudeau government has signed deals to secure a domestic supply of up to 426 million doses of possible vaccine candidates. Last week, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced Canadian Forces Maj.-Gen. Dany Fortin will lead Canada’s vaccine rollout.
Hours after O’Toole spoke to reporters, Fortin announced that 14 sites across Canada, at least one in each province and territory, will be ready to accept deliveries of vaccines by Dec. 14.
“That is a date that is agreed to by provinces,” Fortin said. “Pfizer is aware of that date and we’re working with those sets of parameters.”
Health Canada is now reviewing vaccine candidates from Pfizer, Moderna, AstraZeneca, and Jannsen. The agency has repeatedly said it will only approve a vaccine once it is deemed safe to use after meticulous testing.
O’Toole called the press conference to discuss a Conservative motion before the House of Commons calling on the government to table a “status update” by Dec. 16 on how each type of vaccine will be delivered, stored, and distributed.
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The motion also asks for the date on which each vaccine type will be deployed in Canada, and “intended federal guidance” on how priority groups, such as front-line health workers and seniors, will receive the vaccination.
O’Toole said the Liberals should be able to provide more transparency about their distribution plan even if there isn’t an “exact date” for when the vaccines will be approved for use in Canada.
Sloan, who is no stranger to controversy after having questioned the loyalty of Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Theresa Tam and calling for her firing earlier in the pandemic, wasn’t clear with reporters Wednesday about whether he personally supports the petition. Sloan said that he hadn’t read the petition since it was tabled on Nov. 3 but thinks it highlights some “good points.”
“I’m not an expert on this subject matter, so I can’t say one way or the other whether certain protocols are being followed,” Sloan said. “But I believe these people seem to have concerns and I have no problem allowing them to raise those through a petition in the House of Commons.”
Asked if he’d take a COVID-19 vaccine once it is approved by Health Canada, Sloan said he would make that decision “based on information that comes out and we’ll see when it happens.”
This article originally appeared on HuffPost Canada and has been updated.