Saskatoon

Former Sask. police officer has joined 'crackpots' posting COVID-19 misinformation, says professor

A former Saskatoon police officer has joined the ranks of "crackpots" who spread COVID-19 misinformation online, says a professor who specializes in social media.

8-minute Facebook video from officer who quit this week questions COVID-19 science, restrictions

Former Saskatoon police officer Nathan Lynchuk appeared in a recent Facebook video questioning the seriousness of COVID-19 and explaining his attendance at a recent maskless 'children's freedom rally.' (Facebook)

A former Saskatoon police officer has joined the ranks of "crackpots" who spread COVID-19 misinformation online, says a professor who specializes in social media.

University of Regina professor of educational technology and media Alec Couros says these conspiracy theorists will do their best to "leverage" the statements made in an eight-minute Facebook video by former officer Nathan Lynchuk.

"They reject most science. They reject most experts. But when they find a dissenter, they latch onto them because it fits their particular narrative," Couros said.

Lynchuk was identified at a recent anti-mask children's festival in downtown Saskatoon. A crowd of maskless parents hugged and talked without physical distancing while their kids played games and got their faces painted.

Saskatoon police have issued nearly a dozen tickets so far to those in attendance for violating public health laws. The current legal maximum gathering size is 10 people.

In the Facebook video posted this week, Lynchuk said he was assigned temporary desk duty and told he'd have to be tested while the matter was investigated. Lynchuk said he decided to quit.

A large crowd attended a maskless children's festival at a downtown Saskatoon park last month in violation of public health laws which limit outdoor gatherings to 10 people. No tickets have been issued. (CBC)

Lynchuk said the children's event was simply a group of "normal people" who believe in freedom. He dismissed the seriousness of COVID, saying most people who contract it don't get sick. He said he didn't want to follow the government's agenda anymore.

"I haven't been believing in what's being enforced," Lynchuk.

Lynchuk could not be reached for comment Thursday.

Couros said Lynchuk is "parroting" many of the anti-science conspiracy theories floating around the internet. Couros said any message from a former police officer will have an impact, but that he hopes it will be limited.

"It becomes very powerful, especially for those who already believe and who already drink this Kool-Aid. It may bring a few people over, but most people will probably see right through this," he said.

Public health physician Dr. Cory Neudorf said COVID-19 being a major threat should be obvious to everyone, especially to police officers and other front-line emergency responders. He said Lynchuk's video makes it harder to educate the public and keep everyone safe.

"It just adds to confusion for people. I don't think this is the view of the majority of police or their leadership," Neudorf said.

University of Regina professor Alec Couros says COVID-19 conspiracy theorists will latch on to anyone in authority who makes a statement matching their anti-science beliefs. (Submitted by Alec Couros)

Neudorf said COVID-19 restrictions are an attempt to keep people safe, similar to impaired driving or speeding laws. He said they need to be enforced to be taken seriously.

Neudorf agreed laws must not infringe on freedoms unnecessarily, but said COVID-19 laws are a temporary, reasonable response to a global threat.

The Saskatoon Police Service declined to comment on Lynchuk or the video, but did say in an email that police are "committed to upholding and enforcing the restrictions under the Public Health Order in our community's fight against COVID-19."

The Saskatchewan Health Authority also sent an email response. It said the SHA is "highly concerned" about these continued "freedom" rallies and anti-masking events spreading misinformation.

"This is not only offensive but dangerous, as it publicly downplays the significant risk of harm and death created by community transmission of this virus," read the statement.

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