Windsor-Essex’s medical officer of health says he is a victim of online bullying after receiving threatening messages about his handling of COVID-19, which has prompted him to file complaints to police.
In light of bullying awareness week, which began on Sunday, Dr. Wajid Ahmed got candid during Thursday’s COVID-19 briefing about the messages he and others at the health unit have received since the pandemic began. While he said he’s been a victim of bullying before, it’s only increased in recent months.
“We have received many threatening letters to the health unit and also emails, which is, again, all understandable. People are frustrated, people are upset … it is common, people are doing that, especially this time around, especially when everyone is suffering from impacts of COVID,” Ahmed said.
“The message we want to share is it’s not okay to bully anyone.”
He continued to say that his 13-year-old son has seen messages online and “when he reads things or see people making any mean comments about me, he gets upset too, he feels that they don’t have the right to do it.”
But Ahmed said he’s using these moments to educate his kids on bullying and how they can react.
“I use that as an opportunity to teach them. What people do, it is beyond our control or anyone’s control, you cannot control behaviour … the only thing we can change is the perspective of society, is to learn to be kind, is to learn to be okay to have your own opinion … but your having an opinion does not mean you can start challenging anyone and everyone about whatever they believe in and intimidate them in such a way,” he said.
‘Please be respectful, be kind to everyone’
But it’s not just him who is experiencing this.
Ahmed said there’s many instances of people bullying others online and sending them hateful messages, specifically related to COVID-19.
“There can be online gossip related to potential cases, threats around disclosing information around close contacts and even threats made to [the] victim for being ill,” Ahmed said.
“Online bullying can have serious impacts, people who are cyber bullied often feel an intense sense of isolation, fear, loneliness and despair — feelings which may be heightened due to the pandemic.”
To avoid this, Ahmed said people will hide their symptoms or not get tested “out of fear [of] what may be said to them because of their diagnosis.”
Windsor police chief Pam Mizuno told CBC News Thursday that she cannot speak toward any complaints received from the health unit, nor is she aware of any filed from the community. But, she said if police did receive a complaint about harassment or bullying they “would of course take those seriously and investigate those fully.”
Online messages and cyberbully can have criminal elements that could have charges attached, Mizuno said.
“If there is a threatening element to it, if it meets the criteria to lay a threats charge, our officers would investigate that,” she said.
Earlier this week, two Windsor residents said they received written threats through social media accounts after posting, and responding to posts, about their thoughts on a march against COVID-19 restrictions.
One of the men, Stephen Hargreaves, said he was sent a violent threat against his family after writing that he disagreed with marchers use of the Romanian flag with a hole cut in it, a symbol of the Romanian revolution.
An organizer of the march says he doesn’t believe the message is real, or that a member from his group would send it. Hargreaves said he has filed a complaint with Windsor police and he understands an investigation is underway. Windsor police service would not confirm if any sort of investigation is ongoing.
Ahmed said that while people are entitled to their own opinions, they shouldn’t bully or stigmatize others.
While he noted that people should follow credible sources and point out misinformation, he said it’s possible to do so in a positive and kind manner.
At the end of the day, Ahmed said he just wants people to think about the lasting impact their actions can have.
“Please be respectful,” he said. “Be kind to everyone.”