'This can happen in Saskatchewan': Province not immune to extremism, Opposition leader warns

Saskatchewan's Opposition NDP leader says the U.S. Capitol siege on Wednesday could happen in Saskatchewan, if conspiracy theories and misinformation go unchecked.

U.S. democracy had a 'near miss' with Capitol riot Wednesday, says U of Regina political scientist

Police officers stand guard as supporters of U.S. President Donald Trump gather in front of the U.S. Capitol Building in Washington, D.C., on Wednesday. (Leah Millis/Reuters)

The provincial Opposition leader says an event like the U.S. Capitol siege on Wednesday could happen in Saskatchewan, if conspiracy theories and misinformation go unchecked.

The United States House and Senate certified president-elect Joe Biden's electoral college win early Thursday in a session interrupted for more than six hours, after pro-Trump rioters stormed the U.S. Capitol during a chaotic protest.

Social media services, including Twitter, Facebook and Snapchat, froze President Donald Trump's accounts temporarily on Wednesday after he repeated claims about interference in the U.S. election without evidence.

Saskatchewan NDP Leader Ryan Meili called Wednesday's events in Washington "shocking acts of terrorism and insurrection."

Canada has a stable and safe democracy, evidenced by peaceful transfers of power both federally and provincially, he said.

Meili said he was troubled by seeing comments online from people in Saskatchewan defending the actions of Trump supporters who invaded the U.S. Capitol and posted conspiracy theories.

"It's really disturbing to see extreme and wilful stupidity," he said.

"People having been misled by leaders like Trump and outlets like Fox News and, of course, all of the websites where conspiracy theories are allowed to grow and disseminate — it's really gross to see that happening in Saskatchewan."

On Wednesday, Premier Scott Moe posted a message on his Facebook and Twitter accounts, saying the U.S."has been a beacon of freedom and democracy for generations."

"The events that occurred today in Washington D.C. were deeply disturbing and nothing short of an affront to the democratic values that we hold sacred," he wrote.

Moe's post on Facebook received 1,600 comments as of Thursday afternoon.

When sorted by "most relevant" the following messages rose to the top:

"The citizens are getting tired of being ruled, time for government by the people for the people!" one poster wrote.

Another wrote, "now you feel the need to say something … not a word when they were burning cities and rioting and looting … maybe you need to pay more attention to what is happening here."

"Just the other side showing what they think is unjust," wrote one commenter. "Dems backed and favoured so many riots and spent nearly 4 yrs trying to undermine their leader of America. People seen the wrong and are fighting back."

Another wrote, "People are sick of corruption and being controlled it will happen in Canada soon if things don't change."

Regina police say they counted between 250-300 people during a protest at the legislative building last month, most of whom weren't wearing masks or physically distancing. 'The COVID denial, climate denial, election fraud hoaxes, conspiracy theories, the anti-mask business, anti-vaccine business — this is not helpful,' says Saskatchewan NDP Leader Ryan Meili. (Cory Coleman/CBC)

Meili said it is up to those with influence in the province and the people of Saskatchewan to denounce the recent conspiracy and misinformation trends.

"The COVID denial, climate denial, election fraud hoaxes, conspiracy theories, the anti-mask business, anti-vaccine business — this is not helpful. It's not based in fact, it's not based on reason," he said.

"To see folks in Saskatchewan going down an opposite direction is really disturbing."

Canadian leaders in government and opposition should use one voice to call out the conspiracy theories and misinformation that can lead to scenarios like what happened in Washington Wednesday, Meili said.

"This can happen in Saskatchewan. It has happened in places around the world that thought that they were immune. We cannot let this continue to stew and grow and become something we're dealing with here in Saskatchewan."

Siege 'near miss' for democracy: political scientist

Saskatchewan political scientist Jim Farney said the events in the U.S. are "unprecedented."

"You'd have to go back to the Civil War in the United States … to see this level of instability around an election in a country with a habit of democracy. And as our closest ally and neighbour, this is hugely important to Canada," said Farney, an associate professor at the University of Regina's Johnson Shoyama Graduate School of Public Policy.

"Democracy in the United States had a near miss yesterday."

Farney also thinks the "social and economic shock of COVID-19" has played a role.

"A lot of people are isolated and they've lost work. Thanks to modern technology, we're able to go into these echo chambers and rabbit holes, where things start to become start to seem sensible … when in normal times, if we were interacting with a broader scope of people, they might not be."

People are angry and fearful, and "living in a period of really dramatic change, and sometimes the response to that type of change is pretty radical," said Farney.

"It's maybe not surprising, even if it's unfortunate, that some people have stepped over the line and outside reasonable democratic engagement."

Premier's office responds to 'wanted' posters

Last month, Premier Moe criticized participants in a rally outside the legislature for "flagrantly encouraging others to not follow public health advice."

He also called out a speaker who made comments toward Chief Medical Health Officer Dr. Saqib Shahab, calling the person "racist, foolish and idiotic."

Someone has put posters on light posts in Regina featuring photos of Moe and Shahab saying they are "wanted" for "pandemic fraud."

Someone has taped these posters asking people to call a 'scamdemic' tip line on light posts in Regina. (Matthew Howard/CBC)

"Throughout the pandemic, Premier Moe and Dr. Shahab have made decisions and implemented public health orders and guidelines in the best interest of the health and safety of Saskatchewan people," a spokesperson for the premier said Thursday.

"We recognize that there may be disagreements over the decisions made, but we are confident that all actions taken by Premier Moe and Dr. Shahab have been within their legislated roles and responsibilities."

Exercise right to free speech 'wisely': government

CBC News also asked the government about moderation of comments on both Premier Moe and the government of Saskatchewan's social media accounts.

"Our government values and recognizes the importance of free speech, including the value of residents expressing disagreement with government policies or providing alternate points of view. However, the recent events in the U.S. demonstrate how violent actions can be incited through ill-considered words," the spokesperson said.

"While everyone in our province enjoys the right to free speech, we also all have a responsibility to exercise that right wisely."

The government said its role is "not to censor the expression of free speech," but posters are required to follow its social media policy.

Administrators can remove posts that contain elements like "bullying, intimidation, harassment, hateful content, threats, discrimination … [or] defamatory or derogatory comments," the policy says.

"Individuals who repeatedly violate these guidelines may be permanently removed."

The government said it has page administrators who monitor government social media accounts.

"Administrators also rely on filters that are in place which flag racist wording and vulgar language and immediately hide those posts," it says.

"Comment sections should not be viewed as sources of information, but as forums for discussion, engagement and opinion."

It said those seeking COVID-19 facts and information should visit the government's Facebook page.

With files from CBC News