Sask. chief medical health officer says racist insults tell more about the person saying them

Racist comments directed toward Saskatchewan's chief medical health officer during an anti-mask rally in Regina last weekend are sticks and stones to Dr. Saqib Shahab.

Rally speaker purposely mispronounced Shahab's name, said 'I can't get these foreigners' names right'

Dr. Saqib Shahab was the target of racist comments Saturday, but those comments say more about the person who made them than they do about him, he says. (Alex Soloducha/CBC)

Saskatchewan's chief medical health officer Dr. Saqib Shahab says racist comments directed toward him during an anti-mask rally in Regina last weekend reflect a "lack of empathy and consideration" that may contribute to the uncontrolled spread of COVID-19.

"Racist comments speak more to the people making them than to whom they're directed," Shahab said Monday, adding that he is grateful for the politicians and residents who reached out directly in support, or condemned the comments publicly.

A large group of people gathered outside the Legislature in Regina Saturday for, what police called, an "anti-mask convoy/rally."

During the rally, a speaker purposely mispronounced Shahab's name, then said, "I can't get these foreigners' names right."

The crowd cheered in response.

Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe took to Twitter Sunday to condemn the comments, but criticized them again Monday.

"Those comments are foolish and they should never be made. Quite frankly, they're nothing short of idiotic," said Moe, who later added that he was "embarrassed" that people from Saskatchewan made those "disgusting" comments.

"We have a chief medical health officer in this province who we should be very thankful to have. He didn't have to come to Saskatchewan. And he is among the very best, providing the very best public health advice that any province could ask for."

Despite being the victim, Shahab noted that he has personal biases, and his privileges of being a male doctor with a good-paying job shield him somewhat from the racist comments. But many people do not have those protections, he said.

"This gives us pause to think about our own prejudices — all of us have them, I have them — and be thoughtful about what we say and how it impacts others," Shahab said.

Shahab would welcome talk about anti-mask perspective 

Despite ever-rising COVID-19 cases, outbreaks and deaths in Saskatchewan, people still gathered to encourage breaking the province's public health rules.

Shahab, a highly-trained medical professional who has studied in various parts of the globe including Johns Hopkins University in the U.S., would welcome a conversation with those who are against the health rules to learn why they hold that view.

"It's important for them to consider the impact their actions have on other children who see this behaviour… and also to see the impact they have on the surrounding communities," he said.

"I think this lack of empathy and consideration, the vast majority of people in Saskatchewan don't have this. But I think even a small number can tilt the balance towards an uncontrolled pandemic."

Premier Moe had taken to Twitter Saturday to address the anti-mask rally in Regina, offering his condolences to the 11 COVID-19 deaths announced that day — a single-day record — and to ask the demonstrators to reflect on how much they are truly being inconvenienced.

He echoed those sentiments on Monday.

"The inconveniences that we were asking people to perform are minor, with respect to the huge inconveniences that many families are dealing with," said Moe, citing families may be caring for an elderly family member, or someone who is immunocompromised, who have a high likelihood of death if they contract COVID-19.

"The rally that occurred here this weekend was different than maybe some other rallies that have occurred, in the fact that they are flagrantly encouraging others to not follow public health advice."

Two more Saskatchewan residents have died from COVID-19, public health officials announced Monday.

The total number of COVID-related deaths is 91, but 31 — or one-third — of those deaths have occurred within the past week.


Nicholas Frew is an online reporter with CBC Edmonton. Hailing from Newfoundland, Frew moved to Halifax to attend journalism school. He has worked for CBC newsrooms in Manitoba and Saskatchewan. Prior to joining the CBC, he interned at the Winnipeg Free Press.