One of Canada’s most iconic brands of ice cream has found itself in the eye of a social media firestorm after an Ontario doctor’s tweet became the target of anti-vaxxers.
Chapman’s Ice Cream is one of Canada’s best-known brands in dessert products, manufactured at its family-owned Markdale, Ont., plant, about a two-hour drive northwest of Toronto.
The company has long positioned itself as a good corporate citizen, offering to buy a neighbourhood school to keep children of employees close to home, offering freezer space for the government’s COVID-19 vaccination efforts, and keeping unvaccinated employees on staff at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic so long as they took two rapid tests a week.
Now, the company is embroiled in a controversy over a tweet from Dr. Sohail Gandhi, who was out getting ice cream for his wife on Mother’s Day.
Doctor’s ice cream tweet garners ‘insults’
“I would not have expected the response I got,” said Gandhi, a family physician based in Stayner and a past president of the Ontario Medical Association.
“I baked a strawberry pie for my wife for Mother’s Day and I needed some ice cream. So I went to the store, I happened to see Chapman’s and I said, ‘Hey, this is a good corporate citizen. I should support them,’ so I tweeted about them.”
Need ice cream like I did? Just a reminder that <a href=”https://twitter.com/Chapmans_Canada?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw”>@Chapmans_Canada</a> treated their workers really well and were incredibly supportive of efforts to combat <a href=”https://twitter.com/hashtag/covid?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw”>#covid</a> early in the <a href=”https://twitter.com/hashtag/pandemic?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw”>#pandemic</a> . So support a Canadian company. Bonus-it’s really really tasty! <a href=”https://t.co/puEgLLV9n3″>pic.twitter.com/puEgLLV9n3</a>
The tweet racked up thousands of likes and hundreds of comments, and while many of them were supportive, a number were critical and even downright hateful.
“Some of the comments were basically insults,” Dr. Ghandi said. “What I was surprised about was there were some people making allegations about the way Chapman’s ran their business without having the facts to prove them.”
Those tweets — from allegations of firing employees who refused to get vaccinated, to misinformation about what the company puts in its ice cream — are lies, according to Ashley Chapman, the company’s chief operating officer.
A lot of these people who didn’t get the vaccine, I know them, I know their families, I know they’re good people.– Ashley Chapman
“A nice doctor tweets something really nice about our product and suddenly all these really nasty people come back onto the scene,” he said, referring to the fact his company has seen online backlash before, when it decided to keep workers who refused to get vaccinated on the payroll during the height of the Delta wave.
“We were very concerned because we live in a small rural area, and a lot of these people who didn’t get the vaccine, I know them, I know their families, I know they’re good people.
“Being accused of segregation, medical fascism and some other insane things that people have been calling us, it just seems sad to be honest with you.”
Chapman said he didn’t want to let good people go, so he came up with a compromise: they could still report to work unvaccinated, but had to submit to a rapid test twice a week to keep others from getting sick.
Vaccinated workers, on the other hand, would receive a raise of a dollar an hour because the company didn’t have to pay for any tests.
‘We’re not bad guys in this situation’
Once pandemic health restrictions ended, Chapman said, he raised the unvaccinated workers’ wages so they were on par with their vaccinated counterparts, and bought a PCR test machine so all workers could self-diagnose if they had any unusual symptoms.
To those who have been misinformed. <a href=”https://t.co/c14AoczjtJ”>pic.twitter.com/c14AoczjtJ</a>
Chapman said he doesn’t understand why a company that makes ice cream has become a political lightning rod, especially when it has put so much back into the community.
“We’re just decent people. We’re just trying to make a good product for a fair price. We always treat our community and our employees well, and we’re not the bad guys in this situation. How suddenly ice cream gets to be a political thing is just silly.”
Companies going public about vaccination policies
However, “a political thing” is exactly what vaccines have become, regardless if it’s coming from a manufacturer of something as apolitical as ice cream, according to Alison Meek, an associate professor of history at King’s University College in London, Ont., who studies cults and conspiracy theories, including the anti-vaccine movement.
“I think these days there is no way to engage in this conversation about vaccines without it becoming politicized.”
Meek said if companies want to be public in any way about their vaccination policies, they have to expect the conversation to become politicized, especially when it involves a company as well known as Chapman’s Ice Cream.
That’s because those who refuse to get vaccinated, Meek said, now portray themselves on social media as victims on a scale akin to some of the most persecuted groups in modern history.
“They are the new African Americans of the civil rights movement or Jews in the Holocaust because they refuse to submit,” Meek said.
“Of course, it’s ludicrous. Your choice not to be vaccinated is completely different from what we saw with Jews in the Holocaust or African Americans because of the colour of their skin, but that’s just the age we live in.”