Childhood COVID Vaccination Causing Contention in Canadian Families

Childhood COVID Vaccination Causing Contention in Canadian Families
People line up to get their children vaccinated at a clinic in Montreal on Nov. 25, 2021. (Ryan Remiorz/The Canadian Press)
Lee Harding

The issue of COVID-19 vaccinations, which polls show has become a divisive issue in society, has also caused rifts in some families.

A Saskatchewan father recently went into hiding with his young daughter to keep her from receiving the COVID vaccine, just one case of many across Canada where vaccination status is becoming a point of contention between parents.

Michael Jackson, a divorced father from the town of Carievale, Saskatchewan, was opposed to his 7-year-old daughter receiving the COVID-19 vaccination. After his ex-wife said the child would get the vaccine, he refused to return her, even though his ex-wife had primary residence and medical authority in the joint custody arrangement.

Jackson went into hiding with their daughter in early December 2021, shortly before his legal options to change the situation ran out. His whereabouts remain unknown.

Nadine Ness, who founded the Saskatchewan organization Unified Grassroots in part to heal the divisions in families and society that came about as a result of pandemic policies, said she knows of 15 cases where parents who were already “volatile” in their relationship are further divided over vaccination of their children.

“Especially if one of the parents is really against it, they’re using it, threatening it to get more visits or more child support or more their way. I’ve had two stories where they’re saying, ‘Well, I’m going to take the kids and get them vaccinated if you don’t back down on child support,’” Ness said in an interview.

“They have something that’s ammunition they can use, and now it’s become the new thing, the COVID stuff, to try to get at the other parent through the child. … A lot of parents are afraid of speaking out too, because they don’t want it used against them in custody battles.”

Shortly before Christmas, Quebec Superior Court Justice Sébastien Vaillancourt denied an unvaccinated father visitation rights to his double-vaccinated 12-year-old child. Vaillancourt called the father a “conspiracy theorist” based on his Facebook posts, and said “the Court has strong reasons to doubt that he respects health measures as he claims to do in his written statement.”

Ness said the decision “really bothers” her, especially since she and her young children suffered very little when the Omicron variant recently went through her home.

“Do they not know the risk for children is like non-existent? I’m shocked that that’s even something that’s being considered,” she said of the court decision.

Potential for Conflict Magnified

Paul Adams, professor emeritus of social work at the University of Hawai’i, says families and couples often differ on personal preferences or political persuasions. However, the significance of the pandemic magnifies the potential for emotional conflict, especially for couples.

“Let’s say he is against vaccination. He doesn’t take COVID seriously and just dismisses her concerns. And then she on the other hand is quite nervous, partly because it has been a serious disease and there’s alarmist reports that show infection rates, death rates, and so on,” Adams told The Epoch Times.

“One side feels not respected, not heard. If you go back a step and say, how good is this couple at sorting out differences, and if the answer is not terribly good, usually it doesn’t matter. But then suddenly something comes along that does seem to matter. … Is this a deal breaker? That’s why I would not be surprised if there was some spike in divorce.”

Married parents can also disagree on the vaccine. In October 2021, Quebec Superior Court Justice Chantal Lamarche ruled in favour of a 13-year-old boy who wanted the shots so he could eat in restaurants, go to movies, and play sports. Concerns about vaccination risks left the father opposed, so his wife took to the courts. Lamarche ruled, “The fears of the gentleman are no match for the recommendations of public health in Quebec.”

“You’ve had parents that co-parented really well until this came about, and now you’re seeing it cause issues,” says Ness.

Division, Stereotyping

An online Leger survey of 1,549 Canadians conducted for the Association for Canadian Studies in September 2021 showed that more than three in four respondents held negative views about those who are unvaccinated. Another poll, by Maru Public Opinion, also conducted in September 2021, showed that 77 percent of Canadians believed the country was more divided than before the fall federal election.

Adams, who is 79, believes the pandemic has caused divisions between generations as well, where some elderly want younger people to take more precautions. Others can’t see their grandchildren, or refuse to, because adult children or teen grandchildren have not been vaccinated.

In addition, he says, false stereotyping propagated by mainstream media has magnified contempt.

“It all assumes that the people who are critical or skeptical about vaccination are crazy—no sane argument on their side,” Adams said.

“Then you get masses of [reader] comments that say, ‘Well, they’re all idiots. People who are Republicans are extreme rights,’ and all this sort of thing. So I think there’s been a real breakdown in civil discourse. … And if you think half the population is racist, antisemitic, crazy, etc., etc., that doesn’t make for great family relations either.”

Adams, who writes commentaries for The Epoch Times, said he even received pushback for a column that suggested people should be more open to contrary perspectives.

“Everybody involved in this is claiming to know more than they do,” he said.

“It’s actually uncertain, it would seem to me, all of these things, but everybody you meet has a definite, unconditional opinion on the matter. I was arguing we should be admitting we don’t really know and be more humble. People don’t like to hear that. They like to get angry and take sides.”

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