The Niagara Regional Police Service (NRPS) say they have launched a probe into a number of social media posts that have criticized and even threatened the physical harm of Niagara’s medical officer of health, Dr. Mustafa Hirji.
The investigation is tied to comments that popped up on a number of social platforms Friday and Saturday after Queen’s Park opted to put Niagara in the grey-lockdown level of the province’s COVID-19 response framework, an action Hirji publicly supported.
“There is absolutely no place for these kinds of threats in Ontario. Cut it out,” Premier Doug Ford said in a Tweet in support of Hirji on Saturday afternoon.
“Our health officials have only one priority: the health and well-being of their communities. We’re lucky to have such dedicated public health officials in Ontario.”
Niagara’s MOH made it known days before the Ford government’s impending announcement to gradually lift lockdown restrictions that he was encouraging a continued lockdown for Niagara Region.
Hirji posted a seven-part tweet encouraging continued lockdown measures using modelling from the United Kingdom, in which a December reopening precipitated a significant increase in cases across the country forcing another full closure just three weeks later.
“If we lift the lockdown, cases will rise even faster,” Hirji said in the post.
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“Our case numbers are dropping, but they are still averaging well above the peak of the first wave. Ontario is primed to repeat the errors of the U.K. if we don’t learn their lesson about reopening.”
On Saturday, a number of high-profile leaders across Ontario and Canada, including Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, came to the defence of Hirji on social media condemning the recent threats.
“I am outraged to hear threats have been made against Dr. Mustafa Hirji, the Medical Officer of Health for Niagara Region,” Trudeau said.
“This rhetoric is unacceptable, and I strongly condemn it. He, and all public health officials working to keep us safe, deserve nothing but our sincere thanks.”
In a statement released on Saturday, St. Catharines Mayor Walter Szendzik called the threatening posts “disturbing” and backed Hirji calling him a “professional.”
He went on to say he understood how many were “really struggling” amid the pandemic and that the community “cannot afford” to come apart.
Niagara Falls Mayor Jim Diodati called the disparaging remarks on social media “unacceptable.”
“It is OK to disagree, but not to disrespect.”
On Saturday night, Hirji thanked the support he was getting from the community and said the “speaking up against violence” was the most important message being sent.
“Likewise, let’s not reject those who oppose my position because a few went too far,” Hirji said on Twitter.
“Civil debate on how best to manage the pandemic is necessary — to improve our response, but also to build shared understanding of the chosen approach. We can be calm & civil, but still disagree.”
The NRPS says they will not be commenting any further on the ongoing investigation.
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