Police southwest of Toronto are investigating after a 25-year-old man said he received death threats, harassment and homophobic slurs from people opposed to pandemic restrictions.
Jordan Kent, of Woodstock, Ont., said the ordeal began in late December when he posted on his private Facebook page about his frustration with a church in Aylmer, Ont., that has defied provincial lockdown orders. The church's pastor has become a central player in the anti-lockdown movement.
After prodding from friends, Kent made the post public and on Dec. 28, he said a woman he did not know commented on his page.
"She said to expect a drive-by and camp-out very shortly," Kent said. "Then she posted a photo of my front door with all my Christmas lights around it."
She accused Kent, who is gay, of giving a venereal disease to his ex-boyfriend, whom she named. She also accused him of stealing photographs of her children for sexual pleasure.
"We do drive-bys the real way," she wrote. "See you soon my friend."
He said he blocked her and reported the incident to Woodstock police, who told him they couldn't do anything since they could not find the woman.
On Dec. 31, he launched a Facebook group to combat misinformation about COVID-19 and the lockdown, called "End the Chaos - Stopping the Anti-Mask Movement."
"We started reporting on posts where a person claims something and we are combating that misinformation so more people aren't sucked into the fake narrative," he said.
Kent said he heard about a 13-year-old girl and her mother, both prominent in the anti-mask community, who were coming to Woodstock for a demonstration on Jan. 21.
"When we found out, I went with my partner to cover it and we stood to the side with my dog, Danny, and did not engage, just livestreamed it," Kent said.
Partway into the demonstration, he was identified by the anti-maskers, he said.
Soon, posts showed up on his Facebook wall that accused him of being an animal abuser.
On Feb. 9, he was contacted by his employer, Toyota Boshoku, who said they had received a call saying Kent was a child predator, and asking for him to be fired. He was not fired.
Things got worse on Feb. 10 when the Facebook page, called Canadians Against Canadians Against Freedom, popped up.
There were posts that shared information from Kent's private Facebook page, including his home address and a photo of his house, and more child predator allegations. It also asked if anyone wanted to "visit" his home.
Kent continued to report those incidents to police.
On Monday, Kent received an email from Const. Gregory MacArthur of Woodstock police.
"I would suggest you stop responding," MacArthur wrote.
"Like I explained before, they clearly enjoy the banter and the reaction you are giving to these people. If I was in your position I would either delete Facebook or create a new account for the time being and ignore these people... but I’ll leave that up to you."
That response infuriated Kent, who said he felt like he was being blamed rather than the perpetrators.
"My partner and I have had a week from hell," Kent told The Canadian Press.
Kent, who is gay, said the ordeal began harmlessly enough in late December when he posted on his private Facebook page about his frustrations with the Church of God, in Aylmer, Ont., which has defied provincial lockdown orders. The church's pastor has become a central player in the anti-lockdown movement.
After repeated requests, Facebook finally took down the page on Thursday, more than a week after it launched. The company did not respond to a request for comment.
Barbara Perry, the director of the Centre on Hate, Bias and Extremism at Ontario Tech University, said the officer's comments were "irresponsible."
"This is victim blaming by police," Perry said, adding that it's a common tactic used by police across Canada in these types of cases.
"This is not just online banter, this has the potential for offline consequences and real-life violence and it is a call to action to go to his house."
Perry said the child predator accusations are classic QAnon fare, and an old trope used by bigots who say gay men are a risk to children.
She said Kent is doing the right thing by fighting back.
"It's really important to not back down and allow this to foment," she said. "These are cowards, essentially, and you stand up to cowards and they will hopefully run with their tails between their legs."
A spokeswoman for Woodstock police said they continue to investigate the case, but declined to go into details.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 19, 2021.
Liam Casey, The Canadian Press