Unvaccinated Canadians are about 12 times more likely than those who received three doses to believe Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine was justified, according to a new survey by national polling firm EKOS.
The poll found 26 per cent of those who identified as unvaccinated agreed the Russian invasion is justified, with another 35 per cent not offering an opinion. This compared to only two per cent of surveyed Canadians who said they had three doses of the COVID-19 vaccine and who supported the attack, and four per cent who offered no view.
EKOS president Frank Graves said vaccination status strongly predicts views on the war, from seizing the property of Russian oligarchs to providing non-military aid to Ukraine. In each case, a vast majority of vaccinated Canadians agreed with measures to help Ukraine and oppose Russia, a view held by only a small minority of unvaccinated people.
Torstar was granted access to results of the EKOS data that show a correlation between vaccination status and attitudes toward a host of political issues, including the war in Ukraine.
The EKOS survey — conducted from March 9 to March 13 and using a random sample of 1,035 Canadians — concludes that a “plurality of vaccine refusers are much more sympathetic to Russia.” The survey has a reported margin of error of plus or minus 3.1 percentage points, 19 times out of 20.
Ten per cent of those surveyed, or about 105 people, identified as being unvaccinated. National vaccination statistics show around 11 per cent of Canadians five and up have not received one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine.
Of those Canadians who received three doses of COVID-19 vaccine, the study found 82 per cent agreed with imposing tougher sanctions on Russia even if it meant higher fuel and food prices at home. Only 18 per cent of unvaccinated people concurred.
Eighty-five per cent of vaccinated people agree the country should take in Ukrainian refugees versus 30 per cent of unvaccinated Canadians.
While 88 per cent of vaccinated Canadians agree Russia is committing war crimes during the widely condemned invasion, 32 per cent of unvaccinated people do.
The study concludes the results point “to the highly corrosive influences of disinformation.”
“This is definitely a new and bluntly insidious force that’s contributing to polarization and disinformation and poor decision-making. And it doesn’t seem to be going away. Things are getting worse,” said Graves. “I don’t think this is because those people had an ingrained sympathy to the Russians. They’re reading this online, they’re consuming this from the same sources that were giving them the anti-vax stuff.”
The EKOS survey comes out at a time when some of the loudest anti-vaccine voices that supported the Ottawa occupation are pushing disinformation about the Ukraine war over social media channels that reach tens of thousands of people.
The Line Canada — its distinctive flag, depicting a red line through a black circle, visible during the Ottawa protest — tweeted unsubstantiated allegations Tuesday that Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskyy is a “lunatic” courting a world war and Ukraine is producing illegal bioweapons. Awake Canada, a self-described “civil rights” group that opposes pandemic mandates and has more than 116,000 followers on Facebook and Twitter, compares NATO to Nazi Germany, while No More Lockdowns — the anti-COVID-mandate group associated with its de facto leader MPP Randy Hillier — pushed the conspiracy that the invasion is an attempt to stop a new world order.
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“I saw it almost immediately, within days of the invasion, people supporting it and some quite stridently,” said Timothy Caulfield, a Canada Research Chair in health law and policy at the University of Alberta who has studied the rise and spread of conspiracy theories. “It was pro-Russia, pro-Putin, it was the same kind of dogmatic language you heard from the anti-vaxxers about the alleged harms associated with vaccines. And it was almost immediate and it was from the same crowd.”
Some of that amplification is also coming from Maxime Bernier, leader of the People’s Party of Canada, who has been a prominent figure at anti-lockdown and anti-vaccine rallies, as well as the Ottawa protest.
Bernier tweeted that he deplores the invasion but also shared on Twitter a March 3 video by Whitby PPC candidate Thomas Androvic, who said Putin was “doing us a favour” by invading Ukraine, and the country is a “money laundering industry” and “Trudeau is in on it.” Androvic did not respond by deadline.
Bernier told his 185,000 Twitter followers to watch the video, which he called “a very interesting analysis of the situation in Ukraine.”
The EKOS survey compares vaccination status with political attitudes on the pandemic, vaccines, government trust and the war to create what Graves called a “disinformation index” to better understand the influence of disinformation in Canada.
Graves said those with three vaccine doses rejected disinformation about vaccines, supported public health measures including vaccine passports, and expressed support for Ukraine.
He said the survey shows that with fewer doses, acceptance of disinformation grows, as does sympathy for the Russian invasion.
Unvaccinated Canadians are also more likely to have a profound distrust of government, science and professional health experts, Graves said, and are more likely to support the protest convoy that occupied Ottawa for nearly a month.
“So the pattern was really clear that disinformation was not just a curious feature. It was, I think, a causal ingredient of vaccine resistance.”
The population of unvaccinated Canadians is relatively small. Around 85 per cent of Canadians five years old and older have at least two doses of COVID-19 vaccine, according to federal data. Nearly half of Canadians 18 and older have received their booster.
But in recent years, the politically active elements of the anti-vaccine and anti-mandate community have proven to be adept at networking, organizing and fundraising through social media, said Stephanie Carvin, a national security expert from Carleton University. Millions of dollars were raised through crowdfunding for the Ottawa occupation, although much of that money is frozen as court cases and criminal investigations proceed.
“They aren’t going anywhere anytime soon,” said Carvin.
That organizational capacity may be attractive to mainstream politicians looking for support in tight election races, although wooing those sympathetic to Putin may carry its own political price.
“The convoy movement is going to have a long-term impact on Canadian political life, I think,” said Carvin.
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