How a London, Ontario cricket factory found itself at the heart of an international conspiracy theory

A London, Ontario cricket factory that produces insects used as pet food has found itself at the center of a sweeping international conspiracy theory whose suppliers claim a cabal of dark elites are trying to force the population to eat insects under a sinister totalitarian terrain.

The conspiracy theory has been circulating for months, amplified and published by online misinformation peddlers in Canada and elsewhere in English and Chinese, with the lie often becoming more radical or outrageous with each iteration.

Those spreading the myth are not just online bloggers and anonymous social media accounts. Lies are also propagated and modified by a number of political operators depending on their agenda, including the Alberta separatist movement and politicians like a sitting MP and a hopeful in the leadership of the Conservative Party of Canada.

CBC News has traced the story of the growth of this conspiracy theory, from a simple tweet from an Ontario construction company to its use as rhetoric in the Conservative Party of Canada leadership campaign.

The timeline of the theory’s growth

The entire thread begins quite simply with a tweet on June 10 from Toronto construction company Ellis Don, announcing that it had just completed work on the world’s largest cricket production facility.

The information was picked up a week later by Awakening Canada, a Facebook group that posts pandemic misinformation and conspiracy theories to the World Economic Forum.

The June 17 post was published shortly after midnight, asking: “Are you ready to eat crickets, welcome to communist Canada.” It got 10 shares from the page’s 4,600 followers.

Eight hours later, the false information was repeated by Mike McMullen, a political candidate from London, Ontario, who ran for the People’s Party of Canada in the last federal election and a candidate for city councilor in the October municipal elections.

He posts the same Ellis Don tweet to his Facebook page with the caption “Klaus Schwab and the WEF must be happy…” The post gets 29 shares among his 1,900 followers.

« There’s a growing number of people who think our country is screwed up and our politicians are puppets, » McMullen told CBC News when asked about the post on Thursday. « A lot of people worry about getting them to eat bugs. »

When asked for evidence, McMullen was unable to provide anything other than the biographies of a few prominent Canadian politicians on the WEF website, including Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Deputy Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland.

« I think that’s the plan, » McMullen said. “It is my opinion that I give to you.”

CBC News has contacted Aspire Food Group, which owns the cricket factory. Mohammed Ashour, the company’s chief executive, was unavailable for comment on Thursday and Friday.

Ashour told Vice News in July that the company no longer markets its products for human consumption and focuses solely on pet food because, he told the publication, crickets have « a bit of a disgusting factor”.

False information appears 10 hours later in Chinese

About 10 hours later, on June 17, the false information was shared on Facebook in Chinese on this page. According to Facebook’s translation algorithm, followers are told that the Cricket Factory is part of the « Great Reset » program to stop people from owning everything and setting up the main food chain.

The plant is built on nearly five acres of land in Innovation Park near the Veterans Memorial Parkway and Highway 401. (Twitter)

On June 18, a similar post appeared on Black Sheep Truth Media, a Facebook group that features numerous conspiracy theories with the caption: “Predicted food shortages now offer a solution. Don’t worry now, there will be enough for people to eat. »

The information reached more people, with at least 292 shares and 164 comments among the page’s 30,000 followers. It is also flagged as misinformation by Facebook after being identified by independent fact checkers.

Then, on June 22, the plot was repeated by Tanner Hnidey, the vice president for the economy of the Alberta Prosperity Project (APP), a provincial separatist group.

Hnidey posts a video on his personal Facebook titled « We’re going to keep eating Alberta beef! »

“I don’t plan on eating crickets or bugs for breakfast,” Hnidey says in the video, falsely claiming that the feds are trying to replace beef with bug protein.

How a London, Ontario cricket factory found itself at the heart of an international conspiracy theory
Tanner Hnidey, vice president of economics for the Alberta Prosperity Plan, appears in a June 22 video on his personal Facebook page. The APP is a group that campaigns for the province’s secession from Confederation. (Tanner Hnidely/Facebook)

CBC News received an emailed statement from the APP on Thursday, saying: « The video link you provided appears to be from his personal Facebook page and he is entitled to his opinion.

“We will pass this on to Mr Hnidey and the media team for their response,” the writer said, signing only as “the APP team”.

Hnidey did not respond Thursday or Friday.

The story goes around

On July 3, the lie was published in Calgary’s Western Standard in a column titled « If Canadians wanted to eat crickets, we wouldn’t have to subsidize the cricket farm.” The column has been shared at least 450 times to 130,000 followers.

On July 5, Cheryl Gallant, Conservative MP for Renfrew–Nipissing–Pembroke, creates a Facebook post linking protests against sustainable farming practices in the Netherlands to February’s Canadian Freedom Convoy protest with the caption « Trudeau wants us to eat crickets”.

She posted the false information again in a link to the Western Standard column on August 7, with the caption, « Interesting that Trudeau invested millions in cricket farming to combat a food shortage long before Putin invades Ukraine”.

Gallant did not respond Thursday or Friday to a CBC News request for comment.

On July 9, Federal Conservative leadership candidate Leslyn Lewis wrote a blog post with the title, “Is animal meat being phased out? this suggests that the cricket factory is part of a larger federal government plan to phase out meat.

The post has been shared thousands of times on social media, including among groups that share fake news and conspiracy theories, like the Druthers Community Group.

Lewis did not respond Thursday or Friday to a CBC News request for comment.

The lie taps into anti-government sentiment: prof

CBC News has shared the timeline of the growth of conspiracy theory with Alison Meek, an associate professor of history at King’s College, Western University in London, Ont., who studies conspiracy theories.

She said the fake news tapped into growing anti-government sentiment, playing on the fear and isolation felt by many during the darkest days of the COVID-19 pandemic, when authorities imposed lockdowns and restrictions. drastic health restrictions that disrupted the daily routines of many people.

Conspiracy theorists can put their own stamp on it and use it as they see fit.– Alison Meek, associate professor of history at King’s College at Western

« I think what we’re seeing is tapping into the same sort of thing that we saw with the Freedom Convoy or the warrants, » she said. « This real anti-government sentiment has set in. »

Meek said it’s clear from the timeline that the fake news was twisted and manipulated by each person who spread it, adding or removing details to create propaganda to suit their own agenda.

« Conspiracy theorists can put their own stamp on it and use it as they see fit. »

Meek said that while conspiracy theories have been around since time immemorial in stories about secret societies such as the Freemasons and the Illuminati, the internet has allowed these theories to flourish rapidly reaching people instantly across the internet. borders and languages.

« The internet has been a real boon for conspiracy theories, » she said. “It’s free, you reach like-minded people and it can be modified to fit any program, whether it’s the ‘Great Reset’, the World Economic Forum or the state policy.”

She said while fact-checking conspiracy theories can be exhausting, it must be done to prevent those spreading the lie from dominating the conversation with false information.

Even then, she said, when confronted with evidence or the truth, conspiracy theorists hide behind the idea of ​​scientific rigor, saying they are only challenging the truth or propose an alternative theory.

“It gives an escape for those pushing conspiracy theories. They say, ‘I’m just asking questions.

“Of course you wonder,” Meek added. « But questioning means you have to accept answers that ‘It’s just a cricket plant to make pet food because that’s where the evidence points’, as opposed to ‘Just because we can’t find proof of something must mean there’s something nefarious going on’ – that’s not how journalistic, academic or scientific investigations work.”

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