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Misery loves company – and has found it

Rob Shaw: They may have very different causes and demands, but what the fringes seem to have in common is they will secretly miss COVID-19.
Kevin D Jeffrey /

There’s an old saying that misery loves company. And it’s easier than ever to see the miserable people, as BC starts dropping masks and vaccine rules to transition out of the latest wave of COVID-19.

Some spent the entire pandemic complaining that Dr. Bonnie Henry was wrong on virtually every decision, drawing from their vast playlist of YouTube videos to critique her on public health.

Others pushed forward their unrelated academic credentials in a bid to increase their notoriety by crying wolf every time the province, and the world, was faced with another challenging wave.

But more concerning was the other small section of the population that just appears to be militantly opposed to vaccines, science, government and authority figures in general, while rallying around conspiracy theories and a fundamentally flawed interpretation of our Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

As a journalist active during the pandemic, I’ve had run-ins with all three groups. Each has been unsavoury.

They were all at it again after I wrote an article Sunday explaining how Premier John Horgan’s “get a hobby” denunciation of the trucker protesters tapped into a silent majority of frustrated British Columbians, and exemplified his popularity.

A glimpse into my mailbox:

  • “Nice propaganda piece. What an embarrassment to journalism. Does the province pay journalists too or is it just the federal government? You know that most people are infuriated with the arrogance of this out of touch premier. Hard to read a piece like this without laughing out loud at the bias. Give your head a shake, bud. The world is tuning guys like you out as fast as they can.”
  • “I can’t begin to express my disgust in you for publishing such a piece of trash. If you get your way with the direction we’re heading politically, I’m sure you’ll be the first one to whine about your lost freedoms. Grow a set - your grandparents would be ashamed of you. I know I am.”
  • “If you feel comfortable being a part of Chinese communists propaganda I am sorry for you. Chinese communists state benefited tremendously during ‘pandemic‘. Their economy grew tremendously compared to western. They managed to land their rover on a back side of the Moon while YOU was ‘isolating‘. Go to library and LEARN history while you can, and STOP supporting arrogant views of this BC government.”
  • “The only people I know who got Covid were vaxxed. I have unvaxxed friends and none if them got it.  I came down with it in January. I'm over 60, have one preexisting condition and after a few days was fine. I did not spread it to anyone either.”
  • “I remember when news reporters had integrity and honesty. Why are you so scared to publish truth. Not propaganda. Are you that scared to lose a job that was suppose to represent open honest news stories.”

Those are just a few of the emails.

Many appear to be from the pro-trucker convoy protesters, who’ve perverted the Canadian flag by making it a symbol of their misguided movement.

There’s also a whole other subsection of Twitter users who started the pandemic as COVIDZero advocates and subsequently morphed into a cantankerous, vile group of critics that spent most of their time demanding draconian-level lockdowns that would have cost everyone their jobs, while personally attacking Dr. Henry with disparaging memes they share and repeatedly retweet amongst their small group.

That same group is now wailing on Dr. Henry for, it believes, capitulating to the trucker convoy by dropping mandatory mask requirements (despite most of the world having done this as well).

The pandemic has been hard on everyone’s mental wellbeing. Perhaps people have been brought to extremes they normally would not be.

But while that’s regrettable, it also doesn’t make it any easier to deal with someone spitting on you at a rally, or mobbing your camera while screaming profanity, or sending you death threats, or harassing you for months by email or on social media. All have been common occurrences for BC journalists during this pandemic.

What almost all the miserable people seem to have in common is that they will secretly miss COVID-19.

The pandemic gave them something to rally around. They found a like-minded community of angry people. It gave them an event they could blame for their problems, or what they interpret as the woes of our modern society. It gave them a reason to be anxious and scared all the time, in a state of perpetual catastrophization. It was, in short, everything they thought was wrong with the world wrapped up in a two-year emergency.

As BC and the rest of Canada drops mask mandates and vaccine cards, some of these people will desperately try and stay active – whether that be continued “freedom” protesters who drive around the legislature honking their horns, or trolls continuing their work on social media.

While it might eventually be comforting to see them fade back into obscurity, that’s also a frightening thought because that will mean they’ve pretended to assimilate back into regular society.

They might be friends, relatives, neighbours or coworkers.

And the next time there’s an emergency, when you really need them to be selfless for the greater good of our society’s most vulnerable, they will abruptly reappear – screaming about 5G microchips, the New World Order, pharmaceutical conspiracies, fake news and warped freedoms, as they hurl horrid and filthy insults.

Obscure fringe elements of our society are generally overlooked or ignored. The pandemic fuelled their worst impulses. We can’t continue to pretend they aren’t still out there, miserable and recruiting others to feel the same way.

Rob Shaw has spent more than 13 years covering BC politics, now reporting for CHEK News and writing for The Orca. He is the co-author of the national best-selling book A Matter of Confidence, and a regular guest on CBC Radio.

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