(CNN) – The Vice-Chair of Toronto Public Health says her column calling on Canadians to support COVID-19 has been a “mixed” experience because of the controversy that ensued.
“I think the shock of the piece has generated a lot of discomfort from people who were less familiar with it than I was,” Dr. Brenda Menor told CNN Friday night. “But I feel like the piece has been mixed — it’s been a bit of an unkind experience.”
Before Wednesday’s column was published, Menor already had made up her mind about how to tackle the harmful substance use known as synthetic cannabis, which has claimed the lives of several young people.
“I said, ‘I think we’ve talked about it too much,’” she said. “I think it’s time for a bigger discussion.’ “
Menor said that growing scientific research into synthetic cannabis made her believe it was “something we really have to look at in Canada.” She said she had “great discussions” with two other members of the public health board, Dr. Zameer Afandi and Dr. John Murillo, and they agreed it was time to write an opinion piece.
But a petition protesting her column gathered more than 5,000 signatures and nearly 800 comments within a day, according to Menor. It also sparked posts to the Public Health Authority of Toronto’s Facebook page to say, “Canadians need to act NOW against KILLER drugs like synthetic drugs. Don’t support these shooters with more cheap drugs.”
The movement against her piece has promoted Menor to write a second piece that may be published in response.
“It has been a good response — part of my goal was to promote discourse,” she said. “It was more to have a bit of a statement of one viewpoint on a topic that can divide. It has been a mix of positive and negative reactions.”
CNN obtained the account of one of those who posted to the board’s Facebook page, which refers to “fake people” like Menor who want Canadians to focus on ways to control opioid prescriptions instead of discussing drugs like synthetic cannabis. The post titled “Stressed about the REAL threat to Canada” included a photo of a memorial service in honour of the victims of last summer’s shooting in Humboldt, Saskatchewan.
“The use of synthetics far outweighs the use of opioids,” reads the post. “How much do you really want to listen to people preaching about there being no issue when the source of drug addiction is synthetic drugs?!!!”
Menor said she did not know about the memorial ceremony and while she’s “not naive,” she has not read the memorial’s Facebook page. She said she will probably review that page because of the comments.
One person called her a “tragic drunk.”
“I think some of the reactions have been quite biased and have been triggered by the word artificial,” Menor said. “And unfortunately people judge based on misidentification.”
She said she tries to frame her column — which also calls for increased funding for mental health programs for kids — by asking herself a few questions:
Would I use this substance?
Would my kids use this substance?
How could I prevent them from using this substance?
She said one of the reasons she doesn’t believe in censorship is because it’s a “free country” and people should be allowed to express themselves.
“My feelings about this piece are really complicated,” she said. “I would say that it’s something that should be discussed. I think if people came to more of a shared view of this substance and the harms associated with it than there wouldn’t be as much feeling.”
Menor is on leave as vice-chair, pending the results of a board investigation. Toronto Public Health didn’t provide details about the investigation.
She said she hopes her column is “nourishing” and doesn’t come off as critical.
“I think there are elements to this piece that should be explored and debated,” she said. “I’m not as abrasive and would have preferred people to have a kinder experience.”