There Are No Covid ‘Internment Camps,’ in Canada or Anywhere Else

There Are No Covid ‘Internment Camps,’ in Canada or Anywhere Else
Photo: February 2020: a quarantine facility at the Yukon Lodge in Trenton, Canada (Cole Burston, Getty Images

Earlier this month, anti-mask Ontario member of provincial parliament (MPP) Randy Hillier waved a sheet of paper on the parliament floor, demanding details from Premier Doug Ford’s administration on quarantine “internment camps.” In a spot-on impression of a prosecutor in a courtroom drama, Hillier told them, “surely this government is aware of the intentions to build these isolation camps from coast to coast,” adding, “How many of these camps will be built? And how many people does this government expect to detain?”

There is no evidence that the Canadian federal government is using Covid-19 as a cover to construct “internment camps” and forcibly round up citizens. But the theory — sprung from a mix of QAnon-style tea leaf reading and pseudo gotcha journalism — has taken root in the inboxes of Canada and throughout the conspiracy clear web.

Hillier didn’t invent the theory; a representative from his office told Gizmodo that it was brought to his attention by “several members of the public.” But we can thank Hillier for its viral spread, with his YouTube video (titled “Questions: What’s Going On???”) pushing 130,000 views and winding through tweets and vlog screeds. Citing Hillier’s video, InfoWars says that Canada is already building “quarantine internment camps,” claiming “they already have the legislation […] to separate you from your children.”

The conspiracy theory is so popular that Justin Trudeau took the time to refute the theory in a recent press conference, saying that a student had asked him about “covid internment camps.” Canada’s Public Health Agency also tweeted last week that “federally designated quarantine sites, typically hotel rooms, are not internment camps.”

Hillier followed his spectacle in parliament with an email to supporters, implying a massive federal cover-up was taking place. The email stated that the Premier “has been actively dodging my questions since July,” and that, “after this exchange I’m not even sure if the Premier and his Cabinet know what’s going on regarding the Federal government considering the expansion of isolation/quarantine facilities from coast to coast.”

In a statement shared with Gizmodo, the press secretary for the Office of the Minister of Health wrote that distributors of “emails and social media posts about ‘isolation camps’” are manipulating “fears over a public health issue.”

“Disinformation like this is intended to deceive Canadians and cause fear and confusion,” the spokesperson said, adding that health officials encourage Canadians to check sources before sharing and consult sites like the governments official Covid information page.

Hillier’s supposed proof is this request for information (RFI) — a government memo asking interested suppliers to weigh in on their ability to provide a potential service. In government procurement, this is far from the last step towards putting money in the hands of a contractor and telling them to get to work.

The above RFI — which at no point mentions “camps” or “detainment” — has literally nothing to do with constructing any structures, period. Instead the Canadian government is looking to eventually offload the work of managing its existing “designated quarantine sites” now that its health situation is much less dire. (Like many countries, Canada’s infection numbers are climbing with the cold weather, but its most recent new cases stat of just over 4,000 is a pittance compared to the U.S.’s 74,000.) As the RFI states:

In anticipation of a possible continued need for quarantine sites over the next 1 to 2 years given the COVID 19 pandemic, [Public Health Agency Canada] is considering having a third party service provider provide and manage the existing sites and all of the related services on its behalf.

Hillier neglects to mention that the quarantine sites described in the RFI already exist (and, it should go without saying, are not internment camps.) Since April, the Canadian government has provided voluntary isolation centres for symptomatic residents — especially those experiencing homelessness — as well as hotel rooms for travellers unable to secure their own lodging to quarantine in. The agency has clarified that existing federal quarantine sites are a “last resort” measure, and a spokesperson for Canada’s Public Health Agency confirmed to Gizmodo via email that 3,922 travellers have already stayed in them.

The internment camp hypothesis, which seem to rely on an impressive misreading of the RFI, happens to dovetail nicely with Hillier’s rogue campaign pitting supporters against a government, and particularly his personal nemesis, Ontario Premier Doug Ford, which has supposedly robbed the people of liberties via lockdown measures.

Hillier falsely claimed that the RFI “doesn’t even mention international travellers.” This is simply not true. From the RFI:

Under the current Emergency Order in Council, all travellers arriving in Canada must have a suitable place to isolate or quarantine.

Another “smoking gun” in the RFI is a line stating that the isolation sites can be used for “other related federal requirements associated with the COVID-19 pandemic response” — “other,” he and fellow conspiracists presume, paves the way for the government to inexplicably round up the masses in group centres after three long seasons of social distancing… because the government is drunk with power, maybe.

A representative from Hillier’s office told Gizmodo that the federal Quarantine Act, which enables the Canadian government to establish quarantine centres and designate quarantine officers, “suggests that they [the facilities] are NOT voluntary.” As evidence, the representative sent this emergency order under the Quarantine Act which mandates that all travellers must quarantine for 14 days.

Post-travel quarantines bear absolutely no relation to “internment camps,” and the spokesperson admitted that this particular order doesn’t create room for mass incarceration, per se, but another one could. “All it takes is the issuance of another emergency order to expand the purpose and intent of these isolation/quarantine camps,” the representative said, “which is why Mr. Hillier was trying to get clarification on their purpose and intentions.” The representative added that the Ontario government “did not appear to know, or was unwilling to share, what these ‘other related federal requirements’ for isolation/quarantine might be.”

Paranoia about jackbooted government goons stomping on Canadian freedom may be spreading most notably from Hillier’s office, but he’s far from alone. The conspiracy has found willing mouthpieces among QAnon proponents, in Canada’s Breitbart-adjacent outlet Rebel News, and on InfoWars. The CBC reports that it has received “dozens of emails” from disturbed readers, at least one of which pushed a related domestic warzone theory linking a Department of National Defence tear gas request to these alleged detention centres.

The DND told Gizmodo via email that the riot control agent order has nothing to do with quarantine facilities, only routine training for Canadian Armed Forces to use respirators in case of a chemical or nuclear attack. “DND has been procuring this item for over 30 years for this purpose,” the spokesperson wrote. “This is a regular replenishment, and should provide stock for approximately 5 to 7 years.”

I can’t convince you to believe the government is benevolent (it often isn’t), or to believe that covid-19 is real (it definitely is, though.) From the most cynical point of view, consider who stands to gain more: a politician fear-mongering to whip up his base, or the Canadian federal government spending vast resources on nation-wide incarceration for no particular point or purpose. We’ll only find out if the plan is real when it doesn’t happen, and it never does.