Nfld. & Labrador

Anti-vaccine talk at GEO Centre cancelled after social media backlash

Organizers of an event planned for the Johnson GEO Centre in St. John's in June have decided not to hold it there after backlash on social media and even a call for a boycott of the facility.

GEO Centre now developing policy on booking of future events

Organizers of an event planned for the Johnson GEO Centre in St. John's in June have decided not to hold it there after backlash on social media and even a call for a boycott of the facility.

The Johnson GEO Centre is a geological interpretation centre located on Signal Hill in St. John’s where special events, weddings and public lectures are often held.

The event, called "Exposing the Medical Truth on Vaccines, Statin Drugs & Depression" was supposed to be a talk given by Dr. George Grant, an outspoken anti-vaccination advocate.

Grant works at Ontario-based Health and Wellness Centre, International Academy of Wellness — an anti-vaccine group that believes certain vaccination drugs and other chemicals in food cause autism and other conditions such as Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS).

The event, scheduled for June 16, struck a negative chord with many people online, who flooded the GEO Centre's Facebook page with comments calling for the event to be cancelled and questioning the decision to have it there in the first place.

One person went so far as to launch a campaign calling for a boycott of the GEO Centre itself, asking "Why would the Johnson Geo Centre, a beacon of science and technology, agree to allow this talk to even take place?"

Another person posted, "It's a travesty that there is a chance children in this province will be gullible enough to believe that it's an actual impartial educational centre/museum."

The pressure eventually caused the GEO Centre to post on its Facebook page that it does not necessarily support all presenters at the facility.

GEO Centre developing policy to prevent future controversies

Ashley Wright, GEO relations manager at the centre, said after seeing the negative response, it decided to talk with organizer Jeremy Bennett.

"We can understand that people can be concerned when they hear that someone would be speaking on such a controversial topic," she said.

"So we took that information and went back to Jeremy and said, 'Hey, people are really talking about this.'"

The GEO Centre posted the following comment on its Facebook page, explaining that the event would not longer be held there.

(Facebook)

Wright said after speaking with organizer Bennett, it was decided it would be best to move the event away from the GEO Centre. To Wright's understanding the event has since been called off entirely.

"He didn't want that kind of negative publicity around our building," she said. "He really felt it was a good idea to move the talk, so we were all in agreement and it got moved to a different location and has since been cancelled."

With regards to how the GEO Centre plans to prevent future controversies from arising, Wright said they are working on a policy.

"This situation is certainly making us realize that we need to develop a policy around how we address these situations, but we have not yet determined what that policy will be," she said. 

Bennett said in an email to CBC that people had misinterpreted the presentation as being anti-vaccine when it was a panel discussion intended to talk about vaccines, their benefits and concerns the audience might have.

He did not say if the event had been rescheduled.

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