When Ashley Chapman announced a new vaccine policy at his Ontario ice cream company, he never expected people would boycott his product, send him hate mail, and call his elderly father a Nazi.
Chapman is the vice-president of Chapman’s Ice Cream, a family business in Markdale, Ont., that has been distributing ice cream products across Canada for 48 years.
His company is now at the centre of what he calls a “nasty” campaign by some anti-vaccine organizations and activists.
“The reaction was pretty brutal, actually very, very aggressive. People were calling us, leaving messages after hours. I’ve been sent, the only thing I can say is hate packages in the mail,” Chapman told As It Happens host Carol Off.
“Even my father, my 78-year-old father, got a voicemail on his phone, telling him he was like Hitler, and obviously a Nazi, and we should be convicted of war crimes, essentially.”
Vaccines not mandatory — but testing is
According to the company’s new policy, any employee who is not fully vaccinated against COVID-19 must take two rapid tests a week. The company pays for the testing.
“We live in a small rural community and, you know, I know just about everybody around here. So we really felt that going the hard-line approach of the vaccine or nothing was a little too much,” he said.
So far, he says about 750 of his 850 employees are fully vaccinated. Of the remaining 100, he says some have received a single dose, and others are planning to be jabbed soon.
“So we’re expecting that that number to be whittled down, probably to half that, in maybe a month,” he said.
He says five employees have refused to reveal their vaccine status or take the rapid tests. They are currently on unpaid leave, he said, but three will be returning to work shortly. He did not say how the conflict was resolved.
A $1 raise for the vaccinated
But it wasn’t the vaccine policy, alone, that drew the ire of anti-vaccine campaigners. It was the news that Chapman’s will offer a $1-an-hour raise to every employee who is fully vaccinated by the end of the month.
It’s a move that some critics of the company say flies in the face of equal pay for equal work. One letter that’s been circulating online notes that Chapman’s is not unionized, and therefore employees have limited recourses should they take issue with either the vaccine policy or the raise.
They really don’t know what our policy is. They just assume that we’re evil, and we’ve fired hundreds of unvaccinated employees to teach them a lesson, which is absolutely not the case.– Ashley Chapman, vice-president of Chapman’s Ice Cream
Chapman says the raise is the company’s way of balancing out the costs of the rapid tests.
“We calculated the cost per unvaccinated employee … and it worked out to about $40 per person. And I was sitting here chatting with my mother one morning, and it just felt like we were treating the unvaccinated better than we were the vaccinated,” Chapman said.
“So we said, You know what? Let’s try and be equitable to both sides.”
News of the raise, paired with a screenshot of a memo from the company reminding employees about its vaccine policy, was leaked to several anti-vaccine Facebook groups and media outlets, where it has drawn widespread rebukes and pledges to boycott Chapman’s products.
CBC has reviewed some of the letters, emails and social media comments directed at Chapman’s. Many accused the company of tyranny and call on people to boycott its ice cream and direct their complaints directly to the the vice-president.
Several make unfounded claims about the safety of the Health Canada-approved vaccines.
“It’s crazy, it’s over the top and it’s ignorant because they really don’t know what our policy is. They just assume that we’re evil, and [that] we’ve fired hundreds of unvaccinated employees to teach them a lesson, which is absolutely not the case,” Chapman said.
Backlash to the backlash
Chapman says he has has also been getting a flood of supportive messages. A campaign called #IStandwithChapmans has taken off to counter the negative attention the company has been receiving.
“Your average Canadian from coast to coast was horrified that we were the target of these people,” Chapman said. “The outpouring of affection from across the country has been just really nice.”
He says the boycott hasn’t affected the company’s bottom line — and he expects it never will.
“There’s just not enough Canadians that are anti-vax enough to send us hate mail and to affect our sales,” he said. “They might think that their boycott could actually do something to us, but we would never notice.”
Written by Sheena Goodyear. Interview produced by Sarah Jackson.