Theo Fleury's 'reprehensible' vaccine passport tirade prompts credential clarification from university

Theo Fleury speaks to journalists during a news conference in Toronto on Oct. 13, 2010 about the nationwide warrant issued for convicted sex offender Graham James. Fleury, a former NHL star, revealed in his memoir that he was a victim of sexual abuse by James when he was a teenager growing up in Saskatchewan. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chris Young )

Brandon University is distancing itself from a former NHL star that it recognized with an honorary doctorate after the distinction was paraded out during an online vaccine passport debate.

Theoren Fleury was honoured by the institution in 2015 for his advocacy for survivors childhood sexual abuse.

The 53-year-old Calgarian, a childhood sexual abuse survivor himself, wrote on Twitter on the weekend, "With vaccine passports the pedophiles will know where your kids are at all times." The post has since been deleted.

Fleury's post drew the ire of many on the social media platform and his response to criticism and questions included a screenshot of several of his awards including his honorary degree from Brandon University.

The institution issued a statement Tuesday clarifying the sentiment of the award while condemning his recent statements as both "reprehensible" and a "stain on his legacy."

Brandon University is steadfast in our support of academic freedom, academic inquiry, and of robust public debate around issues of consequence. These freedoms, however, must be balanced against responsibilities like honesty, like integrity, and like good faith. We are disappointed that honorary degree recipient Theo Fleury is, increasingly, not meeting that balance.

In 2015, Brandon University presented Fleury with an honorary doctorate, recognizing his significant contributions to combating child sexual abuse, and for his efforts, at that time, to promote healing and recovery. Fleury, a survivor of sexual abuse in his youth, was one of the key voices exposing sexual predation in junior hockey, and he continues to deserve both praise and understanding for that role.

More recently, Fleury has turned his voice to launching personal and political attacks and to the espousing of conspiracy theories. Over the weekend, he shared a reprehensible statement falsely linking vaccine passports to pedophilia, and he responded to criticism by brandishing a screenshot highlighting several of his past awards, including his honorary degree from BU.

Honorary degrees are awarded by Brandon University to recognize an individual’s significant achievements or contributions; they are not an academic credential.

Fleury’s significant contributions to exposing the rot in junior hockey, and to supporting other survivors of child sexual abuse through recovery, continue to deserve respect. It is understandable that he may struggle to trust authority, and that he may see dark motives in others’ actions. His recent statements, however, go beyond reasonable distrust and are a stain on his legacy, which saddens us.

One of the tragedies of abuse is how it perpetuates itself across generations. We call on Fleury to recognize that he is now a person in a position of authority, and to recognize that his actions as an authority put him in a place where he can cause harm to others. We hope he takes advantage of the resources at his disposal and seeks greater understanding of the science behind the pandemic and the essential public health role of vaccines.

Michael Gould, a contributor to FlamesNation.ca, said it was "disappointing" to see Fleury using his platform to spread misinformation.

"It's not even just the last couple of weeks, it's been the last couple of years where you've started to see this persona of Theo Fleury, the anti-vax, sort of combative, online personality that is catering increasingly to the right wing and is using his very large online following to spread disinformation, to spread information that isn't really credible," he said.

"It's disappointing to see Theo Fleury in a position of power and influence using that power rather recklessly."

Gould added he still has empathy for Fleury.

"Nothing will change what he went through," he said.