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Canada Leaders, health officials condemn hospital protests, call for safety zones

03:16  14 september  2021
03:16  14 september  2021 Source:   ottawacitizen.com

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a group of people walking in a park: Protesters gathered outside the Ottawa Hospital Civic Campus in Ottawa on Monday as protestors gathered to express opposition to vaccine passports and COVID-19 public health measures. © Provided by Ottawa Citizen Protesters gathered outside the Ottawa Hospital Civic Campus in Ottawa on Monday as protestors gathered to express opposition to vaccine passports and COVID-19 public health measures.

About 50 people, some with signs, protested against vaccine mandates near The Ottawa Hospital’s Civic campus Monday while hospital security officers and some concerned health workers looked on.

The protest was one of more than a dozen “silent vigils” outside hospitals across the country Monday organized by a group calling itself Canadian Frontline Nurses. The protests were widely condemned by political and health leaders.

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Along Carling Avenue across from the Civic, a counter-protester, dressed in a dinosaur costume, expressed the view of many critics with a sign that read: “This is an asinine place to protest.”

The protest was significantly smaller than one held on Sept. 1 at the Civic. Protesters stayed on the sidewalk across from the hospital and did not attempt to block traffic or harass people going in and out. Numerous cars and trucks honked their support as they drove by.

Still, one health-care worker waiting for a bus nearby said the protest was discouraging: “We still have (COVID) cases in the hospital and a lot of people who are sick.”

One protester, carrying a sign that read: “My body, my choice,” said she is a teacher and does not believe people should be forced to accept the COVID-19 vaccines in order to retain their jobs. Jennifer Cartwright said she is not alone and others like her are also opposed to mandatory vaccination but afraid to speak up.

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When asked why she was protesting outside a hospital, she said: “I think people have to stand for their beliefs no matter where it is.”

Kelli O’Brien, a patient at the University of Ottawa Heart Institute, showed up to support patients and health workers.

“I had a heart attack last November and I can’t imagine anybody facing a crisis like that having to be met with opposition. During the most critical time of going to the hospital they shouldn’t feel unsafe so I want them to know there is a friendly face willing to help them and also to show support for the amazing frontline workers that we have inside that building that should not have to be dealing with this during a pandemic.”

a group of people standing on a sidewalk:  A counter-protester to Mondays anti-vaccine passport protest at the Ottawa Hospital Civic Campus stands in a dinosaur costume with a sign critical of the decision to congregate near a hospital. Tony Caldwell/Postmedia © Tony Caldwell A counter-protester to Mondays anti-vaccine passport protest at the Ottawa Hospital Civic Campus stands in a dinosaur costume with a sign critical of the decision to congregate near a hospital. Tony Caldwell/Postmedia

Ottawa Centre NDP MPP Joel Harden and Somerset Ward Councillor Catherine McKenney were also prepared to escort people into the hospital if they felt intimidated.

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In a statement, The Ottawa Hospital said protesters were putting staff, physicians and patients at risk.

“Staff and physicians at The Ottawa Hospital have worked tirelessly throughout the pandemic to protect those most at risk in our community. They all deserve to come into work safely, free from risk or harm. Those demonstrating outside of the hospital are putting not only staff and physicians at risk, but also the hundreds of patients who come to the hospital for care every day. “

Premier Doug Ford called the protests “selfish, cowardly and reckless.

“Our healthcare workers have sacrificed so much to keep us safe during this pandemic,” he said. “Leave our health care workers alone.”

Health Minister Christine Elliott also condemned the plans to protest, saying: “Peaceful protest is a right but our healthcare heroes do not deserve to be intimidated or obstructed from delivering or accessing care.”

On Sept. 1, protesters from the group slowed traffic outside hospitals across the country, including on Carling Avenue outside the Civic campus of The Ottawa Hospital.

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A nurse from the Civic, watching the last protest, said she found it dispiriting, calling it: “ignorant, disgraceful and disrespectful to do so in front of healthcare workers who have been taking care of the Ottawa population during the pandemic.”

On Sunday night, Premier Doug Ford called the protests “selfish, cowardly and reckless.

The RNAO, which represents Ontario’s registered nurses and the OMA which represents doctors also released a statement condemning plans to protest.\”Most people who go to hospitals go there because they have to. They are sick. They need urgent, emergency or lifesaving care. They are having cancer treatment, surgeries or diagnostic tests. Some are getting ready to give birth while many others are being treated for COVID-19.

“We respect democracy and the rights of people to protest, but these must not be held anywhere where they block entry and exit to health-care facilities, especially access to emergency vehicles or patients seeking emergency care.”

Last week, the Eastern Ontario Health Union warned that a vaccine mandate protester who attended a rally outside of the Cornwall Community Hospital on Sept. 4 had active COVID-19 and might have spread it to others.

The RNAO and OMA are calling for safe zones around hospitals and other health settings. They are also calling for charges to be laid against protesters engaging in harassment, aggression or hate speech.

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Ontario NDP Leader Andrea Horwath proposed such a law for hospitals and small businesses to protect they from anti-public health harassment. She is calling for a return of the Legislature to pass that legislation.

“The growing number of scary anti-public health protests targeting hospitals should be enough to get Doug Ford to come back to work and jump into action. Patients and health care heroes are being harassed. And it’s up to us to stop it, right now.”

She said a woman with cancer was verbally attacked and shouted down in front of Kingston General Hospital during a recent protest.

There have been threats of violence and threats to impede patients and ambulances, according to health advocates. Protests have also targeted small businesses, and in the case of at least two anti-vaccine protests, people with COVID-19 attended.

Her bill would make targeted harassment of people and businesses upholding public health rules in safety zones a provincial offence punishable for fines of up to $25,000.

a group of men standing next to a building:  Ottawa police and extra security meet in front of the Ottawa Hospital Civic Campus in Ottawa on Monday as protesters gathered nearby, expressing opposition to vaccine passports and COVID-19 public health measures. Tony Caldwell/Postmedia. © Tony Caldwell Ottawa police and extra security meet in front of the Ottawa Hospital Civic Campus in Ottawa on Monday as protesters gathered nearby, expressing opposition to vaccine passports and COVID-19 public health measures. Tony Caldwell/Postmedia.

Ottawa South Liberal MPP John Fraser also called on the Ford government to create safe zone legislation.

Fraser said the Ford government’s failure to implement province-wide vaccine mandates for health workers forced hospitals to implement their own mandates, making them the targets of protesters.

“Their beef is with us,” he said. “Protest the politicians.”

Fraser also said the Ford government’s decision to prorogue the Legislature has left it in “legislative limbo” and unable to return quickly to debate urgent pandemic issues.

The protests were a topic of conversation on the federal election campaign Monday.

During a stop in Vancouver, Liberal leader Justin Trudeau promised to criminalize those who block access to hospitals or harass health-care workers.

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After anti-vaccine protests outside hospitals and schools in B.C. this month, representatives of hospital workers and school principals are asking for protest exclusion zones to be put in place around key institutions. Thousands protested B.C.'s vaccine card rules outside hospitals earlier this month, and some healthcare workers were allegedly assaulted. On Friday, schools in and around Salmon Arm, B.C., were put into temporary lockdown after protestors entered them, and are set to remain locked beginning Monday.

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