This story has been updated since its original publication.
Federal COVID-19 internment camps are not a thing in Canada, and any messaging suggesting such is a dangerous conspiracy theory.
That’s the message federal officials are sending to Canadians in the wake of circulating misinformation suggesting that the government will force Canadians into “COVID-19 internment camps.”
There’s no truth to that, says Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.
“There is a tremendous amount of noise and harmful misinformation … on the internet,” he told reporters Tuesday. “We need to hold together and resist people who would sow chaos within our communities and our democracy.”
Here’s what you need to know.
What’s actually happening?
The federal government is funding voluntary self-isolation sites for people unable to quarantine any other way. These include travel-related quarantine sites and a recently announced Toronto facility to house homeless people with COVID-19 and other vulnerable populations.
“As we work together to keep COVID-19 under control, this new site will help those for whom it’s simply not possible to limit close contacts and self-isolate effectively at home,” Health Minister Patty Hajdu said at the announcement in September.
WATCH: Hajdu urges young Canadians to socialize safely. Story continues below.
Previously when it came to travel, if you return from abroad you were required to self-isolate at home for 14 days. If you are unable to quarantine safely at home, you’re encouraged to seek out quarantine facilities within your financial means, such as a hotel room. As a last resort, hotels and other facilities in some Canadian cities that will lodged travellers for the quarantine period.
In late January 2021, the federal government introduced new measures aimed at containing the spread of dangerous COVID-19 variants, including a mandatory three-day quarantine upon arrival while awaiting testing, at the traveller’s expense.
Still, Canadians will definitely not be compelled to leave their homes for so-called COVID “camps.”
Where did the conspiracy theory start?
Ontario MPP Randy Hillier, a vocal anti-masker, has promoted the debunked conspiracy theory that the federal government is building COVID-19 camps in the Ontario legislature for weeks now.
“I ask this government if people should prepare for internment camps,” Hillier said during question period on Oct. 7.
“Where will these camps be built, how many people will be detained, and for what reason, for what reasons can people be kept in these isolation camps?” Hillier asked on Oct. 9.
Following Hillier’s comments, memes circulated online comparing Canadian quarantine sites to concentration camps. Commenters on Hillier’s Facebook page referred to the sites as “concentration camps.” The far-right federal party National Citizens Alliance denounced the supposed camps and falsely claimed that children will be taken from their parents.
Hillier was booted from the Ontario PC caucus in 2019 for comments related to the parents of autistic children.
Let’s fact-check this
Again, there is no indication that people will be forced into federal quarantine “camps” or that they resemble anything like the horrors of Nazi-era concentration camps that led to the deaths of millions.
Any suggestion linking the two is dangerous misinformation.
Health Canada took to Twitter this week to debunk the theory.
What are officials saying?
Trudeau said he personally had to debunk conspiracy theories brought up by someone during a recent virtual meeting.
“I had to explain that as we consume increasing amounts and various sources of information, online and around us, we need to continue to be attentive to source,” the prime minister said.
In the wake of the conspiracy theory, Canada’s top doctor Theresa Tam is once again warning about COVID-19 misinformation online.
“Information is spread faster than the virus itself.”
“Information is spread faster than the virus itself,” she said. “So be media smart as well as science smart, if you like. Yes, everyone is an armchair epidemiologist and everyone should actually be media smart at this point in time.”
NDP MP Charlie Angus wrote a letter to constituents reassuring them that the conspiracy theory was untrue.
“I want to say simply that there are no secretive internment camps being built,” Angus said. “Government is not preparing to take people away or to impose some dark vaccine agenda.”