Daryl Cooper, the Saskatchewan Party candidate for Saskatoon Eastview, has resigned his nomination.
The resignation comes after it was publicized Cooper has been engaging with members of the QAnon conspiracy group online and shared an unproven theory about the cause of pandemics on planet earth.
"Today, Daryl Cooper offered his resignation to the Executive Director of the Saskatchewan Party," a statement from the Sask. Party said.
"The content and views that Mr. Cooper interacted with on social media are concerning and are not representative of the values of the Saskatchewan Party, our leader, or our members. As such the Saskatchewan Party accepted his resignation."
Earlier today in Prince Albert, Sask. Party Leader Scott Moe said he became aware of the posts involving QAnon on Friday night.
Cooper's candidacy page on the Sask. Party website and his candidacy Twitter account and Facebook page have also been removed.
"This is concerning. I would say that first and foremost and I'll have more to say on this as we move through the day today," said Moe about the online activity, and whose party is running for a fourth consecutive term in the upcoming Oct. 26 election.
"This is something we're taking a very thorough look at. I'm not aware of this particular group. I know very little about the nature of the content that has been shared."
Press Progress — a left-leaning online publication that bills itself "as a counter-balance to corporate ownership in Canadian media and the growing influence of right-wing think tanks" — first reported on the interactions Friday evening, publishing three tweets in which Cooper interacted with QAnon supporters.
QAnon is a fringe belief propagated online that, in part, claims "deep-state" traitors are plotting against U.S. Donald Trump. Its supporters also make more wild claims, including alleging a number of high-profile, and generally liberal, figures are Satan-worshipping pedophiles who are running the world and operating a child sex-trafficking ring that can only be stopped by Trump.
Experts have criticized the group widely and last year, the FBI designated the group a "domestic terror threat" because of its potential to incite extremist violence.
Experts worried about QAnon in Canada
Evan Balgord, the executive director of the Canadian Anti-Hate Network, said while not every QAnon supporter is dangerous, they are contributing to an ecosystem online that spurs division and conflict, as the group dubs anyone who criticizes them a pedophile, even if the claim is completely false, and say all pedophiles should be killed.
"So they kind of target select and really freak-out people who believe in these conspiracy theories and then give them a target and we've seen this result in in-person violence."
"Dangerous information coming from more official sources is even worse, because it encourages them when they see they have made those inroads into mainstream discourse and mainstream politics." - Evan Balgord, Canadian Anti-Hate Network
Balgord said the Canadian Anti-Hate Network is "very concerned" about the group's growing influence in Canada resulting in domestic violence and terrorism, noting people should be cautious of those who buy into the group's myths.
"It also speaks to that person being intellectually susceptible to the point that they can believe in some extremely outlandish conspiracy theories, which would actually speak to somebody not being very suitable for public office in the first place."
He noted it's harmful for people in power, or running to be elected, to be spreading this misinformation as, as seen in the United States, it helps the conspiracy theories spread within the political system as well as into the general public.
"When QAnon people see people with positions, like elected officials, who should be intelligent people, they have a degree of power over everyday lives and they are more credible just on average, just because of their position than the next person on the street," said Balgord. "It is concerning, because people are more likely to engage in that content."
Balgord also said some people within these groups see it as a victory when a person running for office engages with their views, as it shows them how far the conspiracy theories have gone.
"Dangerous information coming from more official sources is even worse, because it encourages them when they see they have made those inroads into mainstream discourse and mainstream politics," he said.
A recent study conducted by the Institute for Strategic Dialogue think-tank found that Canadians are among some of the largest participants in spreading right-wing extremism online.
Candidate liked Tweets praising Trump, warning of Satan
In one of the posts published by Press Progress, Cooper liked a Tweet from a user who referred to Trump as the "Big Kahuna" and claimed he had found a secret message by looking at correlations between Twitter posts by Trump and QAnon supporters.
In another post published by Press Progress, Cooper appears to have liked a tweet from a Twitter account named "Save our Children" that regularly posts QAnon conspiracy theories.
"Satan is ruling the world his time is 1000 year reign is almost up and remember as soon as there is a worldwide announcement claiming world peace and security is the start of the great tribulation," the Tweet said.
In another tweet reported on by Press Progress, Cooper liked a message from another user who said they were excited to hear their neighbours were Trump supporters and "Q followers."
CBC Saskatoon attempted to locate the Tweets Cooper liked on his candidate Twitter account, but they appear to have been removed.
Moe also said the Saskatchewan Party, if re-elected, would continue to get its guidance on COVID-19 from medical professionals and the province's chief medical health officer.
CBC Saskatoon has reached out to Cooper for comment, but a response was not immediately received.
A statement from the Sask. Party indicated they party was to select a new candidate for the Saskatoon Eastview electoral district in the coming days.
NDP questions Moe's leadership after candidate resigns
NDP leader Ryan Meili said in an interview on Saturday the fact Cooper was even able to make it this far through the process had him questioning Moe's leadership, as alongside his controversial posts, Cooper was also in favour of selling off Saskatchewan's Crown Corporations like SaskTel.
"Here's somebody who was openly and publicly advocating for us to sell a Crown, who was also out there engaging in this out-there nonsense, that's downright dangerous, and Scott Moe was fine with it," he said. "It was the candidate who had to step away."
Matt Love, the NDP candidate for the riding, called the posts "reckless" in an earlier statement sent to CBC.
U of R Prof. says QAnon present in Saskatchewan
Alec Couros, a professor of Educational Technology and Media at the University of Regina who specializes in digital citizenship and information literacy said QAnon supporters are already in Saskatchewan and they're "more influential than you would think."
Couros pointed to the "No Mask Saskatchewan" Facebook group as a QAnon-inspired group, noting the fact the group has a following of more than 3,000 in a province of roughly 1.3 million people is something to take note of.
"I'm not saying that all these people believe in wild conspiracy theories," said Couros. "But, ultimately, when you think of a no mask movement, you're really rejecting science."
Couros said for many people, interactions with QAnon start out as engagement in a worthwhile cause, like a Facebook page dedicated to the protection of children, but they're then introduced to numerous other conspiracy theories, noting it appears one of QAnon's main goals is division.
"The main purpose is not necessarily to get people to believe that there's an agenda 2030 or that there's a deep state, but it's essentially to divide people on these issues or on all issues," he said.
Both Balgord and Couros supported the Sask. Party's decision to accept Cooper's resignation as they say anyone who buys into these types of baseless conspiracies is not suitable to run for public office.
Residents in Saskatchewan head to the polls to decide the next provincial government on Oct. 26.