By: Christian D’Ambrosi
After months of lockdowns, Ontario has become frustrated. Yet, despite public backlash, Doug Ford has refused to budge from his pro-quarantine position. As such, people have begun to speak out against Ford, and chief among them is Roman Baber. An MP from York Centre, he recently published a now famous letter calling for an end to the province’s state of emergency. And while this caused him to get kicked out of the Conservative caucus by Ford, he has become somewhat of a folk hero in the process.
Yet, Baber’s rise in popularity via his letter is very concerning. After all, while his arguments may seem sound at first glance, a look into his sources tells a very different story. For be it using unfounded evidence, articles from 2015, or even memes (check citation xii in his letter), he stopped at nothing to try convincing our community that “The Lockdown Is Deadlier Than Covid.”
One of Baber’s primary claims is that COVID-19 has a “99.98% Infection Survival Rate”, and that even amongst those who are 70 or older, only “0.054%” end up passing away. However, he fails to mention that in order to make this calculation, “estimates of IFR by age were averaged to broader age groups.” In other words, this COVID-19 death rate includes those who never contracted the virus, as it divides death rates by the entire population. To highlight how ridiculous this is, when Baber’s calculation is used to determine cancer survival rates in Ontario, the result is a 99.998% infection survival rate.
Thus, his metrics are grossly inaccurate. And interestingly enough, if a Public Health Ontario report that Baber cites later in the letter is used instead, the death rate is determined to be 2.3% across age groups. That is 115 times higher than the 0.02% that Baber claimed.
The shoddy fact checking continues with his claim that victims of COVID-19 “were on average in their last year of life.” This is because the link he cites is an article on death rates in for-profit retirement homes that was published in 2015. COVID-19 did not exist in 2015.
Yet, his most egregious claim is that “The Lockdown is Deadlier than Covid.” In order to pass this off as true, Baber cites an op-ed that states that “the median infection fatality rate is 0.23%” and that “only 20-40% of the population would be infected before ongoing transmission is limited (i.e., herd-immunity).” However, this op-ed makes several scientific claims without using a single scientific citation.
On the other hand, Public Health Ontario has reported a 2.4% death rate, and according to the Mayo Clinic, a 70% infection rate would be needed in order to achieve herd immunity from COVID-19. Therefore, given current population estimates, about 244,719 Ontario residents would have to die in order to achieve herd immunity. Given that Ontario had about 1,000 suicide deaths and 1,560 overdose deaths per year before the pandemic, suicides and overdoses would have to become about 95.6 times more prevalent in order to match COVID-19 deaths in a non-quarantine environment.
If all of this wasn’t misleading enough, Baber even went as far as using a meme page as evidence. In his letter, Baber claims that “Approximately 4,000 (∼80%) of all Covid deaths occurred in Group Living Settings.” In his citations, he says that he pulled this data from the social media page “@IacovosMichael”. Now, it’s not entirely clear which @IacovosMichael is being referred to here. Perhaps it is the one on Instagram, who has a total of 20 followers. Maybe it is the one on Twitter, who has about 1,025 followers and posts about pro-lockdown topics. It could potentially even be one of the six on Facebook, all of which are very different in terms of content shared. In any case, considering that there have been copious amounts of scientific papers made about COVID-19 by both private and government agencies, Baber’s need to use a tweet or Facebook post to prove his arguments speaks volumes.
Given the amount of false information that was used, it is almost certain that this letter was made as a political tool. After all, let’s not forget that Roman Baber is an educated individual, as he received his law degree at The University of Western Ontario. Thus, via the essays he must have written while in school, he certainly learned that citing social media pages and articles from 2015 in reference to COVID-19 death rates is comically inaccurate. As such, he likely hoped that few would question his citations, and that his fanbase would grow via the support received from disgruntled Ontarians. Unfortunately, he seems to have been correct in his calculations.
To be clear, I am open to the idea that lockdowns should be ended. However, I am only open to ideas that are based on fact. What Roman Baber cobbled together in his letter is anything but. Yet, given his title as an MP, his word is a lot more trusted than the average columnist. Thus, for him to pass off such misinformation as true is not only a disgrace to those he serves, but is an abuse of his power, his office, and the right of free speech. For while he had every right to mislead the public, at the very least he should have cited scientific articles in a letter filled with scientific claims. Baber consistently chose not to do that. As such, while he may have used his free speech to spread misinformation, I use mine today to expose the truth.