National Post (Latest Edition)

‘FEELS LIKE A MORAL GUT PUNCH.’ PARTY LEADERS, DOCTORS DECRY HOSPITAL PROTESTS.

‘Feels like a moral gut punch’

- Liam Casey

TORONTO • A Toronto hospital where protesters denouncing COVID-19 measures rallied Monday afternoon said such demonstrat­ions are demoralizi­ng for health-care workers who have cared for patients infected with the virus despite the risk 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 hospital network said in a statement ahead of a number of protests planned at hospitals across Canada on Monday.

That sentiment was echoed by some doctors who stood outside Toronto General Hospital as a crowd of protesters gathered nearby.

Dr. Andrew Boozary, the executive director of social medicine at the University Health Network, said the event “feels like a moral gut punch” for those in a healthcare system already grappling with burnout due to the pandemic.

“To block and intimidate people coming in for care, it just hits heavy at times,” Boozary said. “I think we just have to remind ourselves this is a very small, vocal minority.”

Dozens of demonstrat­ors gathered outside the hospital Monday afternoon, many of them condemning Ontario’s proof-of-vaccinatio­n system, which is scheduled to take effect next week. Several police officers were also present.

A larger demonstrat­ion also took place earlier Monday afternoon outside the Ontario legislatur­e.

Sparky Johnson, one of the protesters at the Queen’s Park event, said she is a member of Take Action Canada, a group opposed to mandatory vaccinatio­n.

“This is my body and I get to choose what to put in it,” she said.

Many of the other protesters declined to identify themselves.

An organizati­on calling itself Canadian Frontline Nurses posted notices of “silent vigils,” which were expected to take place in all 10 provinces.,

Organizers said they want to take a stand against what they call “tyrannical measures and government overreach,” adding that they are not encouragin­g nurses to walk out on their shifts or abandon patients.

Both the New Democrats and the Liberals made mirror pledges on Monday to criminaliz­e protesters that block hospitals or harass health-care workers.

Speaking in Sioux Lookout, Ont., NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh said a federal government can’t ban protests, nor can it limit where people can demonstrat­e.

But Singh pointed to the Criminal Code as a means to dissuade such demonstrat­ions from happening.

His party’s platform pledges to make it a federal offence to harass or obstruct someone from accessing medical care, and provide

harsher penalties for anyone assaulting a health-care worker.

He said protesting at hospitals was different than demonstrat­ing elsewhere, such as rail lines, noting that blockading a hospital could mean someone dies.

“It is not the space, it is not the place to protest,” Singh said.

Hours after Singh spoke, Trudeau outlined an identical pledge of criminal sanctions for anyone blocking access to hospitals, vaccine clinics, testing centres, pharmacies and abortion clinics, and those intimidati­ng or harassing health-care workers.

Speaking in Vancouver, Trudeau said the Criminal Code already has provisions about intimidati­ng people who work in the justice system, but there is now a need to protect doctors and nurses in a similar way.

“It’s not OK any day to know that a nurse going into a late shift crossing a parking lot might be afraid that there could be someone there to spit on her or shout obscenitie­s at her,” Trudeau said.

The Liberal leader also took aim at Conservati­ve Leader Erin O’toole as Trudeau repeatedly looked to use the issue of vaccines and public health measures as a wedge.

Speaking in the rural Ottawa suburb of Carp, O’toole said the planned protests are “completely unacceptab­le,” and called for unity.

“There is the ability to peacefully protest and things like this, but to harass and to try and block people from accessing health care in a pandemic is completely unacceptab­le,” O’toole said.

“Now is the time for us to work together, using all the tools we have — including vaccines, rapid tests, distancing, masks — in our fight against COVID-19. We need to come together as a country in this crisis, not divide ourselves.”

Asked what he would do if elected, O’toole said he trusted local officials to manage the situation. His party’s platform does include a plank to create a Criminal Code offence for anyone interferin­g with “critical infrastruc­ture,” which includes pipelines, rail lines, and, the party said, hospitals as well.

THIS IS MY BODY AND I GET TO CHOOSE WHAT TO PUT IN IT.

 ?? CHRIS HELGREN / REUTERS ?? Health workers react as they watch a protest denouncing vaccine mandates outside Toronto General Hospital on Monday. The major party leaders condemned the action.
CHRIS HELGREN / REUTERS Health workers react as they watch a protest denouncing vaccine mandates outside Toronto General Hospital on Monday. The major party leaders condemned the action.

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