Toronto Star

Toronto General staff look out Monday at the antivaccin­ation protest below. The University Health Network called the protest “dishearten­ing.”

Politician­s, health experts call for ‘protective zones’ around targeted hospitals

- JENNA MOON STAFF REPORTER IVY MAK TORONTO STAR With files from Kieran Leavitt, Robert Benzie, David Rider, Wendy Gillis and The Canadian Press

Dozens of protesters, some holding signs spreading misinforma­tion about COVID-19 vaccines and perpetuati­ng conspiracy theories that COVID is a hoax, converged on Toronto’s Hospital Row on Monday, one of several such demonstrat­ions planned across Canada.

The crowd spent several hours in front of the Peter Munk Cardiac Centre at Toronto General Hospital, which occupies that strip of University Avenue along with Mount Sinai Hospital, the Princess Margaret Cancer Centre and others. They loudly chastised healthcare workers who arrived to counter-protest, holding signs that read “protect hospitals” and “proud to be vaxxed.”

There was also a large police presence, with officers on bicycles forming a protective line in front of the entrance.

Two officers escorted Faye Doiron and Randy Longaphie as they left Toronto General, helping the pair make their way through the largely unmasked protesters. Doiron, who came to Toronto from Prince Edward Island to wait for a lung transplant, was leaving after a physiother­apy session at the hospital, with Longaphie, her cousin, pushing her wheelchair.

“It’s terrifying,” Doiron said. “Doctors told me if I ever catch COVID I won’t make it.”

An anti-vaccine group called Canadian Frontline Nurses organized the Canada-wide protests Monday against vaccinatio­n mandates for essential workers, with demonstrat­ors rallying at hospitals in Montreal, Halifax, Calgary and Edmonton.

In Edmonton, about 100 people descended on Royal Alexandra Hospital. Some used megaphones to speak about everything from vaccine passports to conspiracy theories about immigratio­n to vaccine misinforma­tion.

A smaller group of about 40 counterpro­testers stood on the opposite side of the street, playing circus music and holding signs supportive of health-care workers.

Nurse Rebecca Riches came out to speak to the media and said the protesters should be let inside so they can “go up to ICU, see all the families up there with their dying patients.”

Protest organizer Benita Pedersen told Riches she was “misreprese­nting the truth.”

“If you see what we’re dealing with in there, you would understand,” Riches responded. “It is bad.”

The University Health Network, which operates Toronto General Hospital, tweeted Monday that the protest was “very concerning and dishearten­ing.”

“Demonstrat­ions outside of hospitals not only put health care workers & staff at risk, but also patients who come to the hospital for care,” the network said.

It was one of several organizati­ons and individual­s speaking out against the protest, as well as a silent vigil held earlier in the day at Queen’s Park by a group that purported to be first responders who were against vaccine mandates.

In a news release, the Liberal Party of Canada said that, if reelected, it will introduce legislatio­n that makes it a criminal offence to obstruct access to buildings providing health services, intimidate health-care workers carrying out their duties or patients on their way to receive care.

“I am deeply disturbed by anti-vaxxer gatherings outside of hospitals and health-care sites in the last few weeks,” said Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau.

Conservati­ve Leader Erin O’Toole said peaceful protest is one thing, harassing people accessing and working in health care is another. “This type of harassment and protest in front of hospitals is completely unacceptab­le,” he said during a campaign event in Ottawa.

“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,” NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh said while campaignin­g in Sioux Lookout, Ont.

Toronto Mayor John Tory told reporters Monday he has asked officials to see if the city can legally establish a “protective zone” around hospitals where protesters are not allowed to go.

Protestors abusing, harassing and obstructin­g hospital staff and patients are “completely unacceptab­le … and I think the more we can do to provide a clear line that you can’t go beyond in obstructin­g or otherwise harassing people who work in hospitals or places like that, the better.”

The Registered Nurses’ Associatio­n of Ontario as well as the Ontario Medical Associatio­n have both called for safe zones around hospitals and other health-care settings.

“Any minute that we wait is a minute too late. It’s a minute where colleagues are calling me to say that they’ve had it. They’ve had it because (for) 18 months, they’ve worked nonstop giving it their all,” Doris Grinspun, CEO of the nurses’ associatio­n, told the Star. “Just picture this other unnecessar­y stress on them.”

At Queen’s Park, NDP Leader Andrea Horwath is pushing for legislatio­n that would create “safety zones” around hospitals and small business to limit such protests.

Premier Doug Ford denounced the hospital demonstrat­ions. “The protests we’re seeing outside of hospitals are selfish, cowardly and reckless,” Ford said on Twitter.

But Liberal Leader Steve Del Duca blasted Ford for not taking the protests more seriously.

Canadian Frontline Nurses and their supporters blocked traffic in front of Hospital Row for hours this month, jeering workers and carrying signs that perpetuate­d dangerous misinforma­tion about the effectiven­ess of COVID-19 vaccinatio­ns. That same week, protesters congregate­d in front of Toronto Police headquarte­rs before marching down Yonge Street.

 ?? RICHARD LAUTENS TORONTO STAR ?? Demonstrat­ors gather for a silent vigil at Queen’s Park Monday as part of a series of anti-vaccinatio­n protests held across Canada. Dozens of protesters also converged on Toronto’s Hospital Row, chastising health-care workers who arrived to counter-protest.
RICHARD LAUTENS TORONTO STAR Demonstrat­ors gather for a silent vigil at Queen’s Park Monday as part of a series of anti-vaccinatio­n protests held across Canada. Dozens of protesters also converged on Toronto’s Hospital Row, chastising health-care workers who arrived to counter-protest.

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