Vaccine protests threaten to disrupt essential services as crowds gather outside hospitals and police headquarters

Protesters listen to a speaker as they gather outside Toronto police headquarters to voice their opposition to COVID-19 vaccines and other pandemic-related restrictions on September 2, 2021.Chris Young/The Canadian Press

Indy Sahota, a Toronto doctor, was on his way to work in the emergency department at Mount Sinai Hospital on Wednesday afternoon when he came across a large protest outside the building.

As he got closer, he heard people chanting anti-vaccine slogans.

Hundreds of protesters blocked the intersection in front of the hospital. “The cars couldn’t go anywhere, which is a big problem for us because our ambulance bay is actually right at this intersection,” Dr Sahota said.

Protesters in Ontario, British Columbia and Quebec have taken to busy streets and hospital entrances over the past week to express their displeasure with vaccination passports, which the three provinces have recently decided to implement.

Once passports come into effect, they will prevent unvaccinated people from entering non-essential gathering places such as restaurants and indoor gymnasiums. Polls have shown that three-quarters of Canadians approve of the restrictions. But a vocal minority continues to oppose the idea. And their protests, health professionals say, can in some cases hamper health care.

“I was surprised at the audacity of doing this outside of a hospital,” Dr Sahota said. “I felt so defeated.”

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Police at the Mount Sinai scene received no reports of protesters blocking ambulances from reaching the hospital and would have made arrests if they observed anyone doing so, the spokeswoman said. of the Toronto Police Service, Connie Osborne, in an email.

She added that people have the right to protest, but everyone has the right not to be harassed. “Officers will try to engage with all groups of protesters and remind them of expected behavior. If crimes are committed, officers can make arrests at the time, when warranted,” she said.

On Wednesday, Ontario Premier Doug Ford announced the province’s vaccine passport system. It will come into effect on September 22. Since the announcement, protests have taken place in several locations in Toronto and also in Oshawa, east of the city.

The province had previously imposed vaccination policies on healthcare workers. And several Ontario cities, such as Toronto and Mississauga, had issued similar policies for their own employees.

Some protesters said they were advocating against mandatory vaccination for specific groups. In video of a protest outside Toronto Police Service headquarters on Thursday, a protester said, “Today we’re here to support blue.” The service announced last month that it would require officers and civilian employees to be vaccinated, without specifying how it would deal with those who refuse.

“If people want to support the police, we encourage them to go get their shots and keep all first responders safe,” Ms Osborne said.

The Toronto Police Association, which represents officers and civilian staff and has opposed mandatory vaccinations for its members, said in a statement that it does not support the protest or be involved in it.

In British Columbia, where vaccine passports will take effect on September 13, a group of around 5,000 protesters gathered outside Vancouver General Hospital on Wednesday to oppose a vaccination mandate for healthcare workers. provincial health. Smaller groups gathered in Kelowna, Victoria and Kamloops that afternoon for the same cause.

RCMP arrested a protester suspected of assault. On Twitter, Vancouver Mayor Kennedy Stewart implored residents to “stay home and stop doing this.”

In Montreal, thousands of anti-vaccine protesters took to the streets downtown on Saturday. They finally gathered in front of the building of the Order of Nurses of Quebec. The Quebec vaccine passport was launched on September 1, but the sanctions will not be applied until September 15.

Timothy Sly, professor emeritus of epidemiology at Ryerson University’s School of Occupational and Public Health, said these protests are likely hotspots for viral transmission: people huddle together, use their voices, rarely wear masks and are potentially unvaccinated. He said he suspected banning the marches would only stoke tensions, but thinks their disappearance would go a long way to stifling the fourth wave of the pandemic in Canada.

“I think something has to be done or this pandemic is going to continue,” he said. “The variants come from very active areas where there is viral replication. … That’s why we have to eradicate them.

Doug Ford and Health Minister Christine Elliott announced Wednesday that Ontarians will be required to show proof of full COVID-19 vaccinations before entering indoor restaurants, gymnasiums, theaters and meeting rooms. The plan will go into effect on September 22, first using printed or emailed vaccine receipts and photo ID, followed by the launch of a smartphone app and QR code slated for mid-October.

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Michelle J. Kelley