'Queen of Canada': the rapid rise of a fringe QAnon figure sounds alarm – The Guardian

Romana Didulo claims sovereignty over Canada and is gaining fame online as trust erodes in the country’s civil institutions
She travels Canada in a flag-draped RV with an entourage. She greets supporters in small towns, who eagerly film the encounters on mobile phones. She’s called on her disciples to execute healthcare workers and politicians who support mass vaccination campaigns.
To her more than 60,000 followers online, she’s the newly installed Queen of Canada. But to law enforcement and national security officials, she represents the threat that online conspiracy theorists may be all too capable of inflicting real-world harm.
Romana Didulo, a leader within a fringe Q-Anon-linked movement, has claimed sovereignty over Canada, gaining limited but growing popularity amid an erosion of trust in the country’s democratic and civil institutions.
Last week, Didulo made national headlines after her disciples attempted to make a “citizen’s arrest” of police officers in Peterborough, an Ontario city nearly 300km south-west of Ottawa. The stunt prompted warnings from experts that similar events are likely in the future as online groups become more emboldened to act.
Didulo immigrated to Canada from the Philippines when she was 15 after losing both of her parents, her website says. In 2007, she set up an engineering recruiting and consulting firm and a separate healthcare consultancy – both with limited success.
More than a decade later, she formed her own nationalist political party, Canada1st, in 2021, with promises to end the “enslavement” of Canadians and withdraw the country from international alliances.
The party and its leader received little notice until last May, when she began tailoring her speeches and videos to the narratives of the Q-Anon conspiracy theory. Notable figures in the movement noticed – and her popularity surged.
On her Telegram channel, she claims that Queen Elizabeth II was executed for crimes against humanity last year and that “white hats and the US military, together with the global allied troops and their governments” have helped install Didulo as sovereign of the “Great White North”.
She subscribes to a grab bag of fringe views, including elements of the “sovereign citizens” movement, a baseless belief that high-ranking US politicians are part of a child-trafficking cabal and a claim that aliens visited Earth 300,000 years ago.
“She seems to latch on to conspiracy theories and movements like the ‘Freedom Convoy’ [which paralyzed Ottawa for three weeks in February] and mixes a very religious Christian message. In a way, she’s almost become like a religious figure to her supporters. She’s charismatic and has created a movement for herself,” said Carmen Celestini, a postdoctoral fellow with the Disinformation Project at Simon Fraser University who has closely watched Didulo’s rise.
“A leader will articulate a problem, and then provide those solutions, even if that problem doesn’t necessarily exist. And that is what she’s doing to a group of people who are afraid and who have complete and utter distrust in the institutions of their country.”
At the height of the coronavirus pandemic, Didulo instructed supporters across the country to deliver pseudo-legal “cease-and-desist” letters to businesses and hospitals across the country, demanding they end all public health measures.
In November, as public health officials scrambled to vaccinate as many Canadians as possible against the coronavirus, Didulo posted a message on Telegram ordering the “Kingdom of Canada Military” to “shoot to kill” anyone vaccinating children under 19 years old. She also called on supporters to destroy all coronavirus vaccines or “bioweapons” in order to halt the mass rollout.
She also claimed that military tribunals would be held, and healthcare workers would “receive not one, but two bullets on your forehead for each child that you have harmed as a result of injecting this experimental vaccine”.
Didulo was briefly detained by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police and underwent a psychiatric evaluation but was soon released. Following her brush with federal police, Didulo has moderated her online presence.
“She’s pretty calculating, she knows what she can get away with and what she can’t,” said Kurt Phillips of the Canadian Anti-Hate Network.
He points to an incident in August, where a group of Didulo supporters gathered to conduct an arrest of the Peterborough police, joined briefly by Didulo herself. Speaking to supporters over a megaphone, Didulo fired up the small crowd, but fled to her RV when scuffles with police began and some of her disciples were arrested.
“She was somebody who was boosting this effort … and was very much in favor of it until it went south, in which case she threw all of her followers under the bus. She’s very big on self-preservation.”
In a viral tweet, the city’s mayor, Diane Therrien, called the protesters “fuckwads” and told them to “fuck off”.
Four of Didulo’s supporters were charged but police are in a bind, says Phillips.
“Either way, she wins. Because if the police do nothing, then she can claim it’s because they’re following her edicts. If they do something, it feeds into the persecution mentality of her followers.”
As her support grows, a number of followers across the country are learning there are real-world consequences for their loyalty to Didulo.
The Red Deer advocate, a local newspaper in the province of Alberta, recently reported on the six residents refusing to pay their municipal taxes. Others have lost electricity and heat after refusing to pay their utility bills, citing the illegitimacy of operators.
For those watching Didulo’s sudden rise, the Peterborough incident represents a clear escalation by both her and her supporters.
“The worst thing that we can do is actually make fun of it. It validates their opinion that when they’re mocked, they really know the truth. Calling them crazy, or using other derogatory terms towards them makes them feel validated that they are on the right path,” said Celestini, who points out Didulo’s reach has grown outside of Canada.
“These things are borderless. And so our response as a society has to be borderless as well. We have to find answers on how to deal with disinformation and the senses of injustice, either real or perceived, that are underneath the conspiracy theories.”


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