'They Thought I Was a Nutcase': Pandemic Mandates Spark Division, Forge Friendships

'They Thought I Was a Nutcase': Pandemic Mandates Spark Division, Forge Friendships
A man walks past a COVID-19 restrictions sign during the pandemic, in Mississauga, Ont., on Dec. 22, 2020. (The Canadian Press/Nathan Denette)
Lee Harding

For many during the pandemic, divisions around COVID-19 vaccines and government mandates and restrictions ruptured friendships and family relationships alike. Postings can still be seen on social media about how individuals’ families continue to shun them due to their stances on COVID.

For Melissa Martens, a farmer in Swift Current, Saskatchewan, who chose not to get vaccinated, the rift between her and her sister and father started near the beginning of the pandemic.

“Family members agreed with lockdowns, agreeing with everything that the federal government was implementing, and agreeing with everything that [Premier] Scott Moe was implementing,” she told The Epoch Times.

“If we questioned what was happening, we were deemed conspiracy theorists, nut jobs, things like that, and it progressed quite quickly.”

As a nurse, Ms. Martens’ sister was among the first she knew of to get vaccinated for COVID. In August 2021, she and her husband and two adult children became ill after contracting the Delta variant. As a result, Ms. Martens took care of her sister’s grandson for two weeks. She says the 9-year-old stayed alongside her during harvest, despite direction from the Saskatchewan Health Authority to quarantine him in the basement and “shut down the combine.”

Yet, when Ms. Martens got ill from COVID herself in October, relations “got quite ugly,” she said.

 (L-R) Debbie Wall, Chris Barber, and Melissa Martens at a fundraising event for Mr. Barber at the Wymark Rink in Wymark, Sask., on Aug. 12, 2023. (Courtesy of Debbie Wall)
(L-R) Debbie Wall, Chris Barber, and Melissa Martens at a fundraising event for Mr. Barber at the Wymark Rink in Wymark, Sask., on Aug. 12, 2023. (Courtesy of Debbie Wall)

“My sister said that people like myself who didn't get the vaccine deserved to be denied any medical care because we didn't make the right decision. And she went as far as to say that, because I farm, I should just stay on my farm and die,” she recalled.

“It's hard to hear family members say that, and especially after I cared for her and her family while they were sick. I dropped off groceries on the front doorstep. I brought them medicine and I cared for their grandson. … It's very hurtful when you hear things like that.”

Martens tried to keep a relationship with her sister “but eventually it did completely deteriorate and we no longer speak.” The same happened with her father.

“He had started saying you can't come to our family functions, you can't come around his wife because we would be putting his wife's mom at risk who was 95 [years old] in a home.”

Later, her dad drove to her farm to say she was disowned for remaining unvaccinated.

“I told him, ‘Maybe think about that a little bit longer, because I think that's a decision you'll regret in the long run.’ And I still tried to maintain a relationship with him,” she said.

“He was at my house about two months ago, and told me you need to go get vaccinated because people are still dying in Swift Current from COVID. … Since the last time he came here and said he stands by his decision to disown me, I haven't spoken to him.”

Ms. Martens said TV news, elected officials, and outspoken doctors reinforced a narrative that turned her family members against the unvaccinated.

“They've been manipulated into the fear that this COVID, you could catch it, and you will die from it. I think it's the fear that overtook them, [and] they can't look at anything rationally. They refuse to look at any other statistic that goes against their narrative,” she said.

‘This Is Just Not Adding Up’

Swift Current resident Debbie Wall can relate to Ms. Martens’ story. The mother of three and grandmother of three thought something was off when public health orders began.

“You could go to a restaurant, but you had to wear your mask until you sat down. But you had to put it back on when you would go to the bathroom. There [were] just things like that. And I thought, this is stupid, this is just not adding up. So then I really started looking into it,” Ms. Wall recalled in an interview.

Ms. Wall's research led her to different conclusions on the virus and an appropriate response than those of the authorities. This put her at odds with some extended family members.

“They fell for all of this hook, line, and sinker, so they thought I was a nutcase,” she said.

In 2020, Ms. Wall went Christmas shopping with her mom, who got nervous because her daughter was a bit ahead of the social distancing arrow on the floor as she waited in line.

“I thought, 'Mom, if these masks worked, what could you be worried about?' I said, 'The lady beside me, … she's wearing a mask. I'm wearing mine, right? We're good,'” she recalled.

“That was probably the last time I went shopping with her because the division just kept getting worse. [My husband and I] tried going over there and talking to [my parents] about it and they told us that we were brainwashed and foolish and we should be getting these vaccines.”

Although the pandemic has faded, the division has not.

“This has been going on now the last two years, the constant upheaval, because it's hard not to talk about it. Everything we're doing and everything that's going on in the world right now leads back to COVID. But you can't talk to my mom about it, because she becomes just livid. She becomes very angry.”

‘Lost a Lot of People, Gained a Lot More’

Ms. Wall and Ms. Martens went on to forge a deeper relationship with each other and with people of like mind in her community.

“I've definitely lost a lot of people in my life, but I've definitely gained a lot more—a whole new community of friends, people that I would have never met without having been rejected,” Ms. Martens said.

She says it “definitely” helps to have a friend like Ms. Wall.

“She stands firmly for truth. She does not waiver. Her deepest desire is for people to be informed with the truth and not be deceived. She truly wants what is best for mankind. I didn't know her at all before COVID,” she said.

She also counts ousted Conservative Party leadership candidate Joseph Bourgault, Unified Grassroots founder Nadine Ness, and Freedom Convoy leader and local trucker Chris Barber as other friends she would not have made in different circumstances.

Ms. Martens said the divisions wrought by the pandemic caused “a lot of really, really hard times that everyone has gone through.”

“I really hope that the broken relationships with family and friends are eventually mended because this certainly wasn't worth losing those relationships over,” she said.