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HomeBusinessExclusive: Behind the scenes of Dr. Bonnie Henry’s mask-averse back-to-school ad campaign

Exclusive: Behind the scenes of Dr. Bonnie Henry’s mask-averse back-to-school ad campaign


Bob Mackin

NDP government communications officials suddenly feared blowback from the back-to-school ad starring Dr. Bonnie Henry after it debuted in August.

So they provided the provincial health officer with a script to read at one of her coronavirus updates to media.

Dr. Bonnie Henry’s Back to School campaign (BC Gov)

In the morning of Aug. 31, an email to the Office of the Premier arrived with the subject “please pull that Ministry of Education ad!” from a person whose name was censored by the government for privacy.

“Last night I was watching the NHL playoffs and I again saw that ad with Bonnie Henry and 5 students in a classroom. That ad is misleading, and most importantly, racist,” according to documents released to under the freedom of information law.

“Please stop inflicting it on the B.C. public. Also, stop spending money on these ridiculous ads and put some money into reducing class sizes so that our students and teachers can return to school safely.”

(The allegation of racism is related to the ad’s only masked student being Asian.)

“There has been quite a bit of pushback. For us to discuss,” Henry wrote to communications staff.

Communications director Jean-Marc Prevost replied to Henry and her $150,000-a-year communications contractor Nicola Lambrechts. “If you are asked about the one student shown wearing a mask in the ad, I would suggest messaging something like this:

“We know every classroom in the province looks different. The ad reflects that, showing children from a variety of background and ages from early years to junior high. The students I met with each chose whether they would wear a mask for the ad shoot — and we respected their choice. Students this fall will make the same individual choices about whether they wear a mask in the classroom, and it is important that we respect their choices in the same way.”

Coincidentally, the first question Henry faced at the Aug. 31 media briefing was about the flagship ad of the $1.24 million campaign.

Robbie Williams talks to kids (Noisey/Vice)

“We all had masks and we talked about when we would wear them but each child made their own decision about when they were going to wear a mask and some of them wore them the whole time we were together and some of them put them on and off at times, when they needed to wear them,” Henry told reporters. “So this again reflects what we will be seeing in classrooms.”

The documents show a list of 12 people, 11 of them named, for the in-house production headed by Nammi Poorooshasb, the government’s assistant deputy minister of strategic communications.

A classroom at Eagle View elementary in Victoria was used for the three-hour August morning shoot. There were two treatments, one of Henry lecturing and the other of Henry answering questions. Henry read straight to a camera with aid from a teleprompter, and a second camera filmed a side angle with students in view. The children are seen, but not heard, in the only treatment that was released.

Documents show the NDP government drew creative inspiration from two videos by Noisey, the Vice music channel, starring pop stars Lil Nas X and Robbie Williams talking to children.

CTV News Vancouver reported more than half of Lower Mainland schools recorded COVID-19 exposures this term: 491 of 974 public and private schools in the Vancouver Coastal and Fraser Health zones. But the total may be higher, because VCH did not disclose exposures (other than to parents and students) at the beginning of the school year.

Lil Nas X talks to kids (Noisey/Vice)

Surrey Teachers Association released a Dec. 15 letter to Henry. Vice-president Julia McRae wrote “we are not safe” and pleaded for Henry to mandate masking in schools and to cut classroom density in half.

“Cohorts have been established but there is intermixing that can’t be controlled in hallways, playgrounds, and at lunch hour,” McRae wrote.

Surrey was where Darlene Lourenco, a music teacher at Cambridge Elementary, was hospitalized for two weeks and her school closed.

Between Sept. 8, when schools reopened, and Dec. 18, when schools closed for Christmas break, total cases of coronavirus skyrocketed 589% and deaths jumped 240% province-wide.

Henry has not only dismissed calls to order mandatory masking in classrooms, but she also rejected calls for Christmas break to be extended by at least a week.

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HTH 2020 05541 TheBreaker by Bob Mackin on Scribd