THUNDER BAY – Thunder Bay’s regional hospital has severed ties with a high-profile patient advocate over photos he shared on social media of flags bearing swastikas and other historic items from Nazi Germany.
Keith Taylor, who served as co-chair of the patient and family advisory council at the Thunder Bay Regional Health Sciences Centre until earlier this week, maintains he’s simply a history buff who made a poor judgment call about what to post on Facebook.
Pictures posted to his page in 2012 and 2013 showed off a collection of items, from a bust of Adolph Hitler to helmets and other items that, if authentic, would have been worn by German soldiers during the Second World War. The Nazi items feature prominently, but Taylor also posted photos of unrelated historical items from around the world.
The picture of Hitler’s bust was accompanied by a caption describing him as “one of the worst people in history.”
A photo of young children dressed up in war memorabilia, including a U.S. Navy cap, with a Nazi flag prominently visible behind them, was accompanied by the caption “training them young.”
In another image, Taylor showed off a "German Panzer kill badge" he said he wore on his motorcycle vest.
TBNewswatch received an anonymous tip about the presence of the images on Taylor’s Facebook page. That person said they were disturbed someone in a leadership role at the hospital who interacted with patients would casually display Nazi imagery.
They said they had also last Friday submitted a complaint to the hospital over the issue.
A spokesperson for the Thunder Bay Regional Health Sciences Centre said the hospital doesn’t discuss the details of personnel issues, but confirmed an investigation had taken place, and pointed to the organization’s social media policy.
“That investigation has concluded and the aforementioned volunteer is no longer affiliated with TBRHSC. TBRHSC is steadfast in its commitment to diversity, inclusion and always being a location that is safe and free from any aspect of fear, racism or hatred of any kind.”
The City of Thunder Bay’s anti-racism and respect committee issued a statement on Wednesday condemning what it called “hateful social media posts.”
“The committee denounces Nazism, white supremacy and the use of imagery or collection of paraphernalia from the atrocities committed by Hitler,” said chair Jason Veltri. “Glorifying his barbaric crimes by owning and sharing these symbols is poisoning our society.”
“The use of social media has damaging consequences, and it must be reformed to protect those most vulnerable… Those sharing damaging, hateful, racist and discriminatory posts must be held responsible for their actions.”
A volunteer with the hospital for 12 years, Taylor became a patient advocate prominent enough for his endorsement to be valued in Thunder Bay’s 2018 mayoral race.
He said he spent almost full-time hours on his volunteer role, regularly meeting with senior leadership and flying to conferences on behalf of the hospital, receiving awards, and lecturing students at the Northern Ontario School of Medicine.
Taylor said the images weren’t intended for public viewing, but to be shared with a small circle of close friends who understood he was building a collection of military history items. He hadn’t even remembered the pictures were posted publicly, he said.
He said he understands some in the community will conclude he supports white supremacy, but denied that’s the case.
“I do apologize,” he said. “I would admit it was a mistake. I thought it was between me and couple of other collectors. Some of it was lighthearted and probably inappropriate… [but] there was absolutely no malicious intent there – zero.”
“I had ambitions of starting my own museum – I had thousands of military antiques… and the German stuff was a slice of that,” he said. “I knew it was controversial, and that was the point.”
Still, he said the complainant “went through a lot of trouble” to find the photos, which were publicly accessible until being taken down in recent days, but required a couple of clicks to find on his Facebook account.
“Obviously it was something nefarious, probably somebody had something against me,” he said.
Scott Bradley, executive director of the Thunder Bay Museum, said context and sensitivity is key when dealing with items that represent hate.
Bradley worked in collections management at the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force for 16 years, where he said he regularly dealt with items from Nazi Germany and questions of how to display them.
“It was always this careful balancing act of making sure they were displayed so people saw what they were, but not in a position where we were showing reverence or pride over those things,” he said. “If we had the choice to put up a big Nazi battle flag… we would choose not to do that, because it would be kind of giving it a place of honour.”
Collecting and trading military items is a surprisingly popular hobby, he said, with the Second World War a particular source of fascination.
“The reasons vary widely for why [people] would collect those things – I’d be speculating, but some of them have some sympathy for hate groups. On the other hand, some people are just like, ‘wow, this was part of history,’ so they want to have that connection.”
Taylor said he has sold most of the items since posting the photos.
“I probably lost tens of thousands of dollars making sure it went into the right hands, because there are people out there that want that kind of stuff for nefarious reasons,” he said. “I took a bath to make sure it either went to museums or somebody I knew was a legitimate history fanatic.”