Volunteer Organization Condemns “Hero” Anti-Mask Nurse, Pearson Stands by Policies

The CEO of a company that organized a volunteer trip that a Toronto nurse was returning from when she filmed a viral stunt has condemned her anti-mask activism. Representatives from Pearson affirmed the airport’s stance on passengers who promote unmasked travel, including a popular anti-masker that inspired the nurse from a trip with a confirmed outbreak.

Not All Heroes Wear Masks

Recently, a Toronto nurse’s viral Instagram story became the subject of some controversy. The story from Jessica Faraone, posted on March 4, captures a conflict between Faraone and staff at Toronto Pearson International Airport in Mississauga.

Amid it’s popularity on Instagram Katherine Laidlaw, a journalist at the Future of Journalism Initiative reposted part of the story on Twitter to 165,000 views.

In the footage Faraone films herself proudly declaring that she refuses to stay in a hotel, wear a mask, or allow staff to test her for Covid-19 because she’s a Canadian citizen. She then says that she was in “a screaming match with border security” before filming a heated argument with a man off-screen, presumably a member of Pearson’s security staff. In the argument she defends her actions by stating that she is a front line worker and a “hero”.

In an interview with Rebel News released on Wednesday, Faraone claimed that she had “gotten a lot of positive support from fellow healthcare workers” and blamed backlash against her on what she referred to as “dehumanizing cancel culture”. Faraone also confirmed that she was opposed to “walking anywhere in the general public with a mask”.

A Rebel News anchor with a microphone stands close to a smiling Jessica Faraone.
A Rebel News anchor with a microphone stands close to a smiling Jessica Faraone.
Rebel News personality Andrew Chapados interviewing Jessica Faraone. Screenshot captured from Rebel’s website.

When asked why writers were not often willing to speak on “the other side of the story”, Faraone said as someone “in the hospitals and in the long term care homes”, she didn’t think they were willing to “take the backlash”.

As one of those writers, I can report with confidence: Nope. That’s not it.

According to the College of Nurses of Ontario, Pine Grove Lodge — a long term care home owned by Chartwell in Woodbridge Ontario — previously employed Faraone. However, their employment record of Faraone begins and ends in 2020. Pine Grove Lodge did not respond to a request for comment.

In her viral video Faraone was returning from a volunteer trip in Tanzania, organized by International Volunteer Headquarters, a volunteer travel company. She told Rebel that she chose Tanzania to volunteer in specifically because the country doesn’t have mandatory masks or social distancing restrictions.

In a statement from International Volunteer Headquarters CEO Simon Birkenhead, the organization condemned Faraone’s anti-mask activism and confirmed that she would no longer be welcomed as a volunteer nurse on trips that IVHQ organized:

“We strongly endorse the wearing of face masks for personal protection against the spread of Covid-19, and this is a requirement on many of our volunteer programs around the world where infection levels warrant this. We also strongly support global vaccination programs as we believe these are the only way that the world will be able to get on top of the Covid-19 pandemic and allow life to return to normal by the end of 2021. We condemn Jessica’s anti-mask activism and anti-vaccine views but cannot comment on whether she should have worn a mask when she returned to Canada as we are not familiar with the local guidelines and regulations in Canada.

We expect our volunteers to adhere to all local government advice and health guidelines, both locally on our volunteer programs and at home before/after their trip. Because she has advocated against the official government advice on such an important health issue, she would not be accepted onto another IVHQ volunteer program in the future.”

Birkenhead stated that Faraone had followed IVQH’s own guidelines while in Tanzania and produced a negative Covid-19 test within 72 hours of arriving, and that the organization claimed no responsibility for her behaviour upon leaving Tanzania. He also said that despite her activities following her return to Canada, IVHQ had “no concerns about (Faraone’s) behaviour or attitude while she was participating in our program”.

Between 2007 and 2015 IVHQ organized over 200 different projects between 50,000 volunteers.

Not a One-Off Incident

Faraone’s video is edited to include the Instagram handle of prominent Canadian conspiracy theorist and alt-right social media personality Chris “Sky” Saccoccia.

A screen capture from part of Faraone’s own vlog from Pearson.
A screen capture from part of Faraone’s own vlog from Pearson.
“@RealChrisSky AND THE OFFICER SAID I HOPE YOU (LOSE) YOUR JOB AND WAS HARASSING ME WITH HIS WORDS”. Screenshot captured from Jessica Faraone’s Instagram.

In February Saccoccia filmed himself pulling similar stunts at the same airport, both departing and arriving from a one week trip to Istanbul. He filmed himself arriving at Pearson maskless and had boasted about his refusal to adhere to quarantine guidelines, opting to take the fine over staying in a hotel for three nights. He also gave a statement to The Toronto Sun in coverage that appeared relatively positive. Eventually his return flight — the only one from Istanbul to Pearson that day — would be confirmed as having an outbreak of Covid-19 in at least six rows.

Faraone tagged Saccoccia’s Instagram account in her story from Pearson at least six times. Yesterday, she told Rebel News that Saccoccia was “one of her inspirations for publicly documenting her experience”.

Part of Chris “Sky” Saccoccia’s Instagram story in which he teased an upcoming video at Toronto Airport on Feb. 21.
Part of Chris “Sky” Saccoccia’s Instagram story in which he teased an upcoming video at Toronto Airport on Feb. 21.
“LIVE FROM TORONTO AIRPORT FEB. 21 7PM EASTERN.” Screenshot courtesy of Kimberly.

Following both the outbreak on Saccoccia’s flight and his inspiration to his follower to follow in his footsteps, Pearson has stood by its policies and actions.

In a statement about Saccoccia and the outbreak on his flight, Pearson emphasized their “Healthy Airport Initiative”:

“As part of Healthy Airport, passengers are required to wear face coverings while inside the airport at all times; however there are some exceptions. This includes passengers who are able to produce a note from a medical doctor that certifies they are unable to wear a mask due to medical reasons.”

“Everyone has a role to play in maintaining our Healthy Airport. We understand there may be a need to briefly eat or drink, but we expect all passengers and workers to follow the rules.”

Following Faraone’s viral video, Pearson confirmed that they would “let (their) original statement stand”.

On Friday, Saccoccia filmed himself once again at Pearson, this time shouting at a group of Peel Regional Police Officers before eventually being kicked out of the airport. He accused one officer of assaulting him.

“And don’t touch me again, that’s assault. And if you want, I’ll get a professional standards investigation against you. And then you’ll be reprimanded, if not fired.” Retrieved from Damien Spaulding’s Facebook.

Ironically, in a Rebel News video re-released yesterday, a man implied that Saccoccia himself might be guilty of assault for spitting on him.

Intersectional Activism Isn’t Always Progressive

Many on social media have accused Saccoccia of faking his medical condition, citing a photograph he posted last year in which we wore a mask during a tattoo appointment.

In addition to anti-mask activism, Sacccoccia has also used social media to promote alt-right political activism. He’s used his public image to promote The Great Replacement, a white supremacist conspiracy theory, as well as call Muslim Canadians “low IQ animals” and allege that Jews secretly control mass media.

Coverage of Saccoccia from The Toronto Sun, BlogTO, and a few other major news outlets often do not mention his role as a popular alt-right influencer when discussing his anti-mask activism and full disclosure: This is something I’ve been very critical of.

Fine? Fine.

Even though his flight had an outbreak of Covid-19, Saccoccia’s refusal to adhere to any mandatory health and safety measures upon his return from Turkey resulted in a standard $880 fine, which he displayed proudly to Rebel News’ David Menzies.

In contrast, the out-of-pocket expenses for travellers following Ontario’s mandatory hotel quarantines for non-essential travellers is closer to $2000.

So far the fines for breaking laws put in place to curb the spread of Covid-19 in Canada are usually cheaper than the costs of following them. So far, most travellers are willing to spend a long weekend’s worth of time at a mid-range hotel to help curb the spread of Covid, but as Peel Police told The Canadian Press in February: many are not.

By the end of 2020, only 8 charges were issued between the 340 travellers returning to Canada who were caught failing to comply with mandatory quarantines.

Jessica Faraone did not respond to a request for comment.

Radical rationalist. Distant admirer of the newsroom. Long lasting and morbid fascination with internet subcultures. || Twitter: @SpinelessL

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