A series of protests — against vaccine mandates and other COVID-19-related public health measures — held outside hospitals across Canada on Monday was condemned by politicians and health-care organizations as unacceptable and unfair to staff and patients.
The protests were organized by Canadian Frontline Nurses, a group founded by two Ontario nurses who have promoted conspiracy theories about COVID-19 and attended rallies in the U.S. for those who think the pandemic is a “fraud.”
The group says the “silent vigils,” expected in all 10 provinces, are meant to critique public health measures put in place to curb the spread of COVID-19.
Organizers oppose what they call “tyrannical measures and government overreach,” adding that they are not encouraging nurses to walk out on their shifts or abandon patients.
One of the group’s founders, registered practical nurse Sarah Choujounian, was at the Toronto protest.
“We have thousands with us across Canada, but obviously, we’re only a few speaking because we’ve been fired,” said Choujounian, who formerly worked at a local long-term care home.
Ontario Premier Doug Ford, whose government drew similar protests after he announced plans for a proof-of-vaccine system, condemned the latest round on Sunday in a tweet, describing such events as “selfish, cowardly and reckless.”
WATCH | Protesters opposed to vaccine mandates rally outside hospitals:
The Registered Nurses Association of Ontario and Ontario Medical Association issued a joint statement “strongly condemning” the disruptions and calling for designated safe zones around health-care facilities to protect staff and patients — a proposal the province’s New Democrats have also floated.
“Nurses, doctors and other health-care workers have been working around the clock on the front lines of the pandemic for 18 months helping to keep our communities safe,” the joint statement said.
The University Health Network, which runs Toronto General Hospital, said staff who have cared for people dying of COVID-19 are particularly disheartened, noting health-care workers have been caring for COVID-19 patients for 18 months despite risks to themselves and their families.
“To see protests in front of hospitals is demoralizing for all who work here but particularly for the staff who have cared for the people dying of COVID-19, often without all of their family and loved ones around them,” the network said in a statement.
‘COVID-19 heroes’ need support, doctor says
Alberta Premier Jason Kenney condemned the protests at hospitals in Edmonton and Calgary, saying peaceful demonstrations are a constitutional right but they also have limits.
In a statement, he raised the possibility of the protesters facing legal action, “including the potential use of the Critical Infrastructure Defence Act,” an act passed in 2020 which allows fines against anyone who blocks, damages or enters without reason any “essential infrastructure.”
Dr. Kwadwo Kyerementang, head of critical care at The Ottawa Hospital, said it’s important to not let the small numbers who are protesting undermine the positive reaction health workers have received from most Canadians.
“I don’t want the select few to be the loud voice,” he said. “Our staff, they’ve hustled, they’ve put in the extra mile there. And I know most of Canadians, most of Ontarians, most of the people in Ottawa are so appreciative of our efforts. We hear it daily.”
“These COVID-19 heroes need the resources and supports to continue the battle — now in the thick of a fourth wave. They cannot and must not be distracted, or worse, discouraged by protests at the doorsteps of their workplaces.”
WATCH | Head of Canadian Nurses Association speaks about protests:
At least one Toronto emergency nurse agrees.
“There’s been harassment and bullying,” said Vikky Leung, who created a petition over the weekend also calling for the creation of safety zones around hospitals.
“There’s been emails telling my colleagues not to wear scrubs or anything that identifies them as health-care workers and I think that’s truly upsetting and scary.”
Leung is on maternity leave, but said she has felt fear and frustration after hearing from her colleagues about their experiences.
“People [are] stressed out and disheartened and really feeling unappreciated,” she told Metro Morning on Monday.
WATCH | Trudeau says hospitals should be free of threats:
“It’s hard to see that, when you’re going into work and leaving work, these people spending their time and energy to promote that kind of propaganda.”
Meanwhile, Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau vowed to criminalize blocking access to hospitals amid the protests, saying in a tweet: “There is no place for intimidation or threats at our hospitals and clinics.”
NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh agreed it is wrong to protest at hospitals.
“No health-care worker, no patient, no one seeking health care should in any way be limited or have a barrier to getting the care they need,” he said while campaigning in Sioux Lookout, Ont.
Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole also expressed frustration.
“This type of harassment and protest in front of hospitals is completely unacceptable,” he said.
Past protests have centred on both public health measures and the prospect of proof-of-vaccination systems that would limit access to many public settings for those who have not been immunized against COVID-19.
British Columbia’s system took effect on Monday, while Ontario’s is set to launch on Sept. 22.
Quebec’s rolled out earlier this month, Manitoba began issuing vaccine cards in June, and both Nova Scotia and Yukon have said proof-of-vaccination systems are in the works.
The protests we’re seeing outside of hospitals are selfish, cowardly and reckless. Our health care workers have sacrificed so much to keep us all safe during this pandemic. They don’t deserve this kind of treatment — not now, not ever. Leave our health care workers alone.
There is no place for intimidation or threats at our hospitals and clinics. That’s why we’ll make it an offence to obstruct access to any building providing health services. We’ll also make it an offence to intimidate/threaten any health care worker or anyone seeking treatment.
No one should be permitted to obstruct access to a hospital. If necessary, law enforcement should be deployed to prevent this.
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