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Alberta premier apologizes for comments linking COVID vaccinated to Nazi followers

EDMONTON — United Conservative Leader Danielle Smith apologized Monday after a 2021 video surfaced of her saying she wouldn’t wear a Remembrance Day poppy while comparing those who got the COVID-19 vaccine to followers of Adolf Hitler in Nazi Germany
This compilation photo shows Premier Danielle Smith (left) as she speaks at an economic forum in Calgary, Tuesday, April 18, 2023 and NDP Opposition Leader Rachel Notley as she addresses the Calgary Chamber of Commerce on Thursday, Dec. 15, 2022. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh

EDMONTON — United Conservative Leader Danielle Smith apologized Monday after a 2021 video surfaced of her saying she wouldn’t wear a Remembrance Day poppy while comparing those who got the COVID-19 vaccine to followers of Adolf Hitler in Nazi Germany.

Alberta's election is set for May 29.

“I’ve always remained a friend to the Jewish community, to Israel and to our veterans,” Smith told reporters Monday, deferring further comment to a statement from her campaign office.

In the statement, Smith said while the comment was made during her previous career as a journalist and pundit, any comparisons involving the horrors of the Nazi regime are offside.

“As everyone knows, I was against the use of vaccine mandates during COVID,” Smith wrote.

“However, the horrors of the Holocaust are without precedent."

She said in the statement that no one should minimize the suffering under Hitler or the sacrifice of veterans. 

“I apologize for any offensive language used regarding this issue made while on talk radio or podcasts during my previous career.

"COVID was a divisive and painful period for so many, including myself, but is thankfully now over. I would hope we can all move on to talk about issues that currently matter to Albertans and their families."

The Calgary Jewish Federation, responding on Twitter, said it spoke out during the pandemic about disturbing rhetoric linking vaccine mandates to the Holocaust but declined further comment Monday, saying, “In today’s campaign climate it is important that our community is not used as a wedge between political parties.”

Since becoming premier in October, Smith has been dogged by past statements, including saying people are responsible for contracting their own early-stage cancer and that the COVID unvaccinated have faced the most discrimination of any group she has seen in her lifetime.

Smith's comments from a Nov. 10, 2021, interview on social media resurfaced over the weekend. In it, Smith points out she is not wearing a poppy because of the actions of politicians during the pandemic.

“They ruined it for me this year — the political leaders standing on their soapbox … pretending they understand the sacrifice and not understanding that their actions are exactly the actions that our brave men and women in uniform are fighting against," Smith said in the video.

Smith then moves on to compare those who received COVID vaccinations to those in Hitler's Germany who "succumbed to the charms of a tyrant, somebody telling them that they have all the answers."

Of the pandemic vaccinated, she says, “We have 75 per cent of the public who say, ‘Not only hit me, but hit me harder, and keep me away from those dirty unvaxxed.’

“We're already hearing about people being denied treatment for not being vaccinated, being taken off the organ donor list. What are we becoming?

“It is diabolical.”

In November, the board of Smith’s UCP disqualified a potential candidate for its Livingstone-Macleod constituency in part for past comments comparing COVID vaccine passports to policies enacted under Hitler’s regime.

Smith also faced questions Monday for a second video that surfaced from a speech she gave to party members at a Calgary rally Saturday in which she tips off her supporters that her government was set to announce the province would declare a state of emergency due to wildfires that have forced thousands to flee their homes.

Such a declaration allows the province to access additional funding and resources.

“You guys are the first to hear about it, so you got a little bit of inside information," Smith is seen telling supporters on the video, obtained by The Canadian Press.

Colin Aitchison, a spokesman for Smith in her role as premier, declined to answer an emailed question on why Smith felt it was appropriate to make the announcement to supporters before telling the public at large.

“The decision was made by the Emergency Management Cabinet Committee prior to the press conference,” said Aitchison in a statement.

“Prior to the press conference, we also notified the NDP of the decision.”

Opposition NDP Leader Rachel Notley, speaking to reporters in Calgary, said once cabinet makes a decision, the premier can disclose it when and how she wants. 

“This is more about the judgment that she is demonstrating by choosing to share it with a bunch of campaign supporters before she shares it with those Albertans who are so deeply impacted by this crisis," she said.

Notley called the Nazi comments "utterly horrifying." 

“What we have here is a premier who is looking at over 75 per cent of Albertans who stepped up, who followed the (COVID) science and respected the requests that were made by public health officials to protect themselves, their neighbours and Alberta's most vulnerable citizens and everybody who needed our hospitals — and she's comparing those Albertans, 75 per cent of them, to the architects of an antisemitic genocide.

“Albertans, you deserve better. You deserve so much better.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 8, 2023.

Dean Bennett, The Canadian Press

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