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The nurses behind Vancouver’s anti-vax protests

Anyone who has seen the Canadian Frontline Nurses’ white nurse cap logo with its bright red cross on posters and flyers promoting anti-vaccine rallies might be wondering how this group — whose name suggests that it represents nurses — came to be figh
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An ambulance passes through a crowd of people protesting COVID-19 vaccine passports and mandatory vaccinations for health-care workers in Vancouver on Sept. 1, 2021. The protest began outside Vancouver General Hospital and police estimated the crowd gathered to be as many as 5,000 people. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck

Anyone who has seen the Canadian Frontline Nurses’ white nurse cap logo with its bright red cross on posters and flyers promoting anti-vaccine rallies might be wondering how this group — whose name suggests that it represents nurses — came to be fighting policies laid out by Canada’s top health officials.

The relatively new group helped organize an anti-vaccine rally held outside Vancouver General Hospital and Vancouver City Hall this month.

With a membership including some fired nurses, Canadian Frontline Nurses actually represents a small minority of Canada’s health-care workers and has been widely denounced by those working with COVID-19 patients across the country.

Who are Canadian Frontline Nurses?

Canadian Frontline Nurses is an offshoot of Global Frontline Nurses, which predates CFN by one year. The foundations for CFN were built mainly on social media by women like Kristen Nagle, a neonatal ICU nurse, and Sarah Choujounian, a registered practical nurse, both from Ontario.

Before the pandemic, Kristen Nagle’s Instagram was filled with photos of her children, healthy recipe ideas and dieting tips. But on Aug. 10, 2020, Nagle made one of her first posts about the pandemic, in which she argued public health measures were creating an atmosphere that was making more people sick than the virus was.

Over the next few months, she spoke at city council meetings spreading misinformation about masks, and went on to attend, organize and speak at anti-mask rallies in Ontario. For these actions, Nagle was eventually fired from her job, according to the CBC.

Still, her protests continued into the start of 2021, when she and Sarah Choujounian met at Pearson Airport awaiting a flight to Washington, D.C.

Three months before that flight, Choujounian made the first post to the Instagram account nursesagainstlockdowns, which merged with the Canadian Frontline Nurses Instagram account in May of this year. During that time, she, too, attended and spoke at anti-mask and anti-vaccine rallies in Ontario.

When they met, the two were headed to Washington to unite with the Global Frontline Nurses and participate in a Freedom Health Summit on Jan. 6.

Nagle and Choujounian, along with other members of the GFN movement, met on the steps of Capitol Hill hours before thousands of supporters of former U.S. president Donald Trump broke into the Capitol to try to stop the presidential electoral vote count.

In the aftermath, the College of Nurses of Ontario confirmed to the Canadian Press that both Nagle and Choujounian were already under investigation for speaking at anti-mask rallies.

Neither woman is reported to have been part of the pro-Donald Trump mob that stormed the Capitol.

Four days after the Capitol riots, the CFN Facebook page was created, with a similar logo to that of the Global Frontline Nurses. Around the same time, a website for CFN was also created, listing Choujounian as one of the group’s founding members.

According to Choujounian’s bio, she, like Nagle, was fired from both her nursing jobs at care homes in Ontario.

The website indicates the organization has three more members: Kristal Pitter, a RN who is still entitled to practise with no restrictions but is no longer employed as a nurse, according to the College of Nurses of Ontario; Jessica Faraone, an RN from Quebec is also entitled to practise but is no longer doing so; and Nordia German, another RN from Quebec, who, according to the Order of Nurses of Quebec, is entitled to practise until 2022.

A loud minority

Michael Villeneuve, CEO of the Canadian Nurses Association, which has represented nurses across Canada for nearly 100 years, says the Canadian Frontline Nurses represents a loud but small minority.

He said the CNA has been keeping tabs on Canadian Frontline Nurses because the group doesn’t represent the values of nursing.

“It’s dangerous to put that title out there, meaning a nurse title, which obviously carries meaning for the public and then misrepresents truth or science,” said Villeneuve, whose group released a scathing letter directed at participants and organizers of the recent anti-vaccine-card protests.

Titled “Enough is enough,” it says: “The reckless views of a handful of discredited people who identify as nurses have aligned in some cases with angry crowds who are putting public health and safety at risk. They have drawn in anti-science, anti-mask, anti-vaccine, anti-public health followers whose beliefs align with theirs. For some reason they would have us believe that millions of the best educated health scientists, public health experts, physicians and nurses globally have all missed something they have not. Their outlandish assertions about science would be laughable were they not so dangerous.”

The letter says anti-public-health disinformation threatens to confuse a tired and bewildered public by misrepresenting personal ideology as facts, and science as conspiracy. The letter also attempts to assure Canadians that the vast majority of Canada’s nurses are duty-bound to use science and evidence to evaluate the care they give.

Villeneuve says in any group, including the hundreds of thousands of nurses across Canada, there are bound to be a few people who don’t agree with the rest.

“The problem is when the group is 448,000, half a percent is still a couple thousand people, and they could be very vocal using social media,” he said.

In Villeneuve’s 40-plus years in the health-care industry, he said he has never seen the public’s vitriol take such a toll on health-care workers.

“I’ve never seen nurses and doctors so tired,” he said. “So shaken, and shocked by fellow Canadians lining up and yelling at them.”

Villeneuve says those who claim to represent Canada’s nurses while also spreading misinformation about a global pandemic “represent everything that we don’t.”