11th December 2023

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B.C. deputy Green leader removed over social media ‘like’

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Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry talks during an update at the legislature in Victoria on March 10, 2022. Dr. Sanjiv Gandhi said he had not intended to ‘like’ a social media post comparing Dr. Henry to infamous Nazi doctor Josef Mengele. He said he was saddened that the move led to his removal from the BC Greens, but that he would not question what the party felt was the appropriate course of action.CHAD HIPOLITO/The Canadian Press

The BC Green Party has removed a deputy leader after he “liked” a social-media post comparing the provincial health officer with an infamous Nazi doctor – a move he accepts, though he says he was unaware he had done so.

In an interview Thursday with The Globe and Mail, Dr. Sanjiv Gandhi, who has also resigned as a candidate in next year’s provincial election, apologized for what he said was an inadvertent boosting of the problematic post about Dr. Bonnie Henry.

“I’m sorry for the harm that I caused by my lack of awareness, in terms of liking a Twitter post that was very inappropriate,” he said. “I’m disappointed that I won’t be able to continue in this role, and to continue to try to elicit respectful, meaningful substantive conversation about health care in British Columbia.”

Dr. Gandhi, a recently retired pediatric cardiothoracic surgeon at BC Children’s Hospital who has been highly critical of the B.C. NDP government’s approach to health care delivery, was appointed the BC Greens’ second deputy leader in January. In September, he announced his intention to run for the party in the riding of Vancouver-Kingsway (to be renamed Vancouver-Renfrew because of boundary changes), setting up a race against incumbent and Health Minister Adrian Dix.

On Sept. 13, a user on the X social-media platform, formerly known as Twitter, posted a screenshot of a letter criticizing Mr. Dix’s comments describing challenging conditions at a Surrey hospital as “the new normal.” The letter, which retired medical specialist Dr. Adrian Fine wrote in a newspaper, was reposted by another user who commented that it should be read out by Dr. Gandhi on the campaign trail when he runs against Mr. Dix and by the provincial health officer – whom the user referred to as “#QueenBonnie‘Mengele’Henry.”

Josef Mengele, nicknamed the “Angel of Death,” was a Nazi doctor who performed deadly experiments on prisoners at the Auschwitz concentration camp during the Second World War. CHEK News political correspondent Rob Shaw drew attention to Dr. Gandhi’s “liking” of the repost on Wednesday evening, posting a screenshot of it to the same platform.

Dr. Gandhi said Thursday he had intended to “like” the original post – from a user he follows – and not the offending repost, in which he had been tagged by a person he does not follow. He said he was saddened that the move led to his removal from the BC Greens, but that he would not question what the party felt was the appropriate course of action.

The former surgeon signed up for X in February, 2022, as he prepared to retire from his career in medicine. Mulling a run for president of the Canadian Medical Association at the time, Dr. Gandhi said he was advised to boost his social-media presence.

“I’m a novice, so to speak, in the world of social media,” he said. “I appreciated the power of social media; I didn’t appreciate the extent of the vitriol on social media … I also understand better now why good people find it difficult to enter the political arena.”

BC Green Leader Sonia Furstenau issued a statement within hours of the post’s circulation on Wednesday night.

“Today, I was made aware of Dr. Sanjiv Gandhi, deputy leader, liking a tweet with an inappropriate comparison between our provincial health officer and Mengele,” she said. “I find this unacceptable and I have removed Dr. Gandhi as deputy leader and accepted his resignation as a candidate.”

Jillian Oliver, a political strategist who comanaged the last BC Green Party election campaign and Ms. Furstenau’s leadership run, said the swift response was a testament to her leadership.

“I worked closely with her; she’s super decisive,” Ms. Oliver said. “She has a strong moral compass and knows what she stands for.”

She called the situation “unfortunate,” noting that Dr. Gandhi brought a lot of credibility to important health care issues, such as advocating for increased use of physician assistants.

“It really is a good reminder for anybody running for office, and for parties, that the communication and presentation still needs to be paramount,” Ms. Oliver said. “Otherwise, you know, it gets in the way of you being able to work on the issues that you really care about.”

Ms. Furstenau and Dr. Henry declined interviews with The Globe. The social media user who authored the offending post did not respond to a request for comment.