Niagara Regional Police have launched an investigation after online threats were made against the region’s acting medical officer of health.
“We are aware of the social media posts in reference to Dr. Hirji that have been reported in the media. We have commenced an investigation,” the police force said in a tweet. “We will not be commenting any further at this time regarding that investigation.”
Police were notified following a report in the St. Catharines Standard on Saturday which said threats were made on Facebook against Dr. Mustafa Hirji following the decision by the province to place the region in the “grey-lockdown” zone once stay-at-home measures are eased this week. Surrounding regions, meanwhile, will see non-essential businesses such as restaurant, bars, salons and gyms allowed to reopen with restrictions.
Among the online comments were calls that Hirji be fired, be removed from his position “by any means necessary including FORCE” and that his head be placed “on a stick.” Several of the comments were made by business owners in the region, with at least one person posting in the group that they knew where Hirji lived and suggesting they vandalize his home.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said he was “outraged” to hear about the threats, calling the rhetoric “unacceptable.”
I am outraged to hear threats have been made against Dr. @MustafaHirji, the Medical Officer of Health for Niagara Region. 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. https://t.co/tZqJlRenLA
— Justin Trudeau (@JustinTrudeau) February 14, 2021
Premier Doug Ford said there was no place for these kind of threats, admonishing those who posted comments to “cut it out.”
There is absolutely no place for these kinds of threats in Ontario. Cut it out.
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.https://t.co/MhyFDy82kS
— Doug Ford (@fordnation) February 13, 2021
Niagara mayor Walter Sendzik acknowledged the “frustration and disappointment” following the provincial decision, he called the threats against Hirji “disturbing” and urged the community to unite.
“Meaningful and passionate engagement is always welcome – and while we may not always agree – any type of bullying and harassment is not acceptable – PERIOD,” he said in a statement. “We are better than this Niagara.”
Niagara Regional Chair Jim Bradley issued a statement, saying there is no place for violence, disrespect or viciousness in Niagara.
“This type of language is completely unacceptable and entirely counterproductive. Rhetoric of this kind is embarrassing and does little but discredit any argument an individual may have,” said Bradley. “While I can appreciate that there are those who are frustrated, any call for violence, regardless of the passion a person may be feeling in the moment, is not acceptable.”
The Ontario Medical Association also strongly condemned the online calls for violence, saying “death threats, and all forms of violence must not be tolerated here, or anywhere. We have seen where hatred takes us.”
The Ontario Medical Association strongly condemns those making deaths threats against public health officials who are trying to keep our communities safe. pic.twitter.com/kiRpUYUtFr
— Ontario Medical Association (@OntariosDoctors) February 14, 2021
Hirji himself took to Twitter to thank everyone for their words of support, adding he was “deeply humbled” by them.
“The excessive anger of a few today should not distract from the suffering of many during this pandemic,” wrote Hriji. “Frustration is understandable.”
While he did not want to see this incident turned into a political attack against the Ford government, Hirji added he also did not want to see the voices of those who opposed his position to be silenced either.
“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.”
Thanks to everyone for their words of support this evening, including the #WeStandWithDrHirji tag. I’m deeply humbled by the volume & breadth of support. More importantly, I’m gratified that so many are speaking up against violent language—such discourse corrodes our unity. 1/6
— Mustafa Hirji (@mustafahirji) February 14, 2021