COVID-19, Conspiracy Theory and Terrorism?

COVID-19 has unfortunately led to all kinds of wacky conspiracy theories, some of which have led to acts of violence.

This contribution was published in The Hill Times on May 18, 2020

There is clearly no question that the ongoing novel coronavirus crisis is sending all us scurrying here and there for information on what is going on. As in most things there are good and bad sources of information and it is incumbent on all of us to look for, consume, and rely on solid data.

Our government has done a good job so far in its efforts to communicate with Canadians. Scientists and health professionals have been at the forefront of messaging, providing us with the best advice, based on real data and not speculative fiction.

Despite all these best efforts, the world of ‘fake news’ and conspiracy theories is still with us and it may seem as if both are in overdrive. There are all kinds of crazy ideas out there on where COVID-19 came from and, more dangerously, how to cure it. We have all heard stories where people have tried ‘remedies’ that in the worst care scenario may injure or even kill those who ingest these ‘cures’.

Among all the odd ideas now making the rounds is the notion that 5G wireless technology is somehow causing COVID-19.

Really? We have the resources for this??
Disinformation in a time of pandemic

Apparently there is also another ‘counter theory’ where COVID-19 was created to distract us from the 5G rollout, which is the bad thing. Incredibly we even have some who are convinced that Microsoft founder and billionaire philanthropist Bill Gates unleashed the coronavirus upon the world so that he could make everyone get a “vaccine,” which is really just a “digital certificate” that is in fact a microchip implant which will enable him to gather all or our personal information. Whatever.

Those who consume all this drivel may be odd at best, but this flood of information has had some repercussions that are violent in nature. The Surete du Quebec arrested Justin-Philippe Pauley, 28, and Jessica Kallas, 25, in Sainte-Adèle, a town about 80 km outside of Montreal, early Thursday morning (May 7) after two cell towers in nearby towns were lit on fire: the couple are believed to be connected to a total of seven cell tower fires in the area over the past week.

The idea that some ultra-powerful and mostly invisible enemy or organization is the highly unlikely cause of events when far more mundane explanations offer themselves readily is not new, but it is new to the mainstream.

What do we make of this, aside from dismissing it as the actions of some not very bright people? I’d like to go a little out on a limb and speculate whether it constitutes an act of terrorism under Canadian law. No, these two would not be the ‘A’ team of terrorism but there are some interesting angles to this.

Recall that under Canadian law (section 83.01 of the Criminal Code) terrorist activity is defined as a serious act of violence (including “substantial property damage” and “serious interference with or serious disruption of an essential service” – anyone want to argue that wifi/cellphone is NOT an essential service in 2020?) perpetrated “in whole or in part for a political, religious or ideological purpose, objective or cause.”

Are internet conspiracy theories ideologies?

The first part seems clear to me but is the second? Does believing in an Internet conspiracy theory constitute an ‘ideology’? I admit that this is a stretch but it is important to stress that these are not random crimes carried out for kicks. After all, an idea, albeit a very bad one, led these two to set fire to the cell towers.

I doubt that the Crown would ever go down the terrorism rabbit hole in this instance for several reasons. There are undoubtedly other parts of the Code which can be used to press charges and prosecute. Secondly, we have a hard enough time successfully gaining convictions on real terrorism cases and one as ‘marginal’ as this would not be a priority. Lastly, does the Government of Canada really want to call this hapless pair ‘terrorists’ and thus give them far more attention than they deserve? Probably not.

We will most likely see more out in left field ideas when it comes to coronavirus and 5G/wireless technology. It seems that the propensity to concoct bizarre paradigms and spread them online is something we will continue to have to live with. As if surviving the COVID-19 lockdown was not hard enough!

Phil Gurski

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