Vaccine protesters in Canada rally outside hospitals

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A crowd rallying against the Covid-19 vaccination blocked the streets outside a Vancouver hospital this week, haranguing and, in one case, aggression healthcare workers, slowing ambulances, delaying the entry of patients for treatment and disturbing those who are recovering inside.

Kennedy Stewart, the city’s mayor, was among many to quickly condemn its members.

“When I see people blocking healthcare workers who are working hard to save people dying from Covid, it makes me sick.” he wrote on Twitter.

While polls show Canadians opposed to vaccines to be a decided minority, the Vancouver protest was not an isolated event. In British Columbia, protesters were out in Kamloops, Victoria, Kelowna, Prince George and Nanaimo. A downtown Toronto hospital area saw a similar outbreak filled with rabies, and an anti-vaccine group made their way into downtown Montreal.

All of this, of course, followed the angry and often secular protests that followed Prime Minister Justin Trudeau during the federal election campaign, forcing an event to be canceled for security reasons. It was not just Mr. Trudeau or the Liberals who were targeted. Vaccine protesters have come forward twice at Stephen Lecce, the Minister of Education for the Progressive Conservative Government of Ontario. When the protesters learned that Mr. Lecce was not at home, they heckled his neighbors.

Coincidence or not, public anti-vaccine rabies emerged over the course of a week that resulted in developments in some provinces requiring proof of vaccination for entry into certain public places. Vaccine-verification system in Quebec, which includes a phone app, went into effect on Wednesday. And in Ontario, Premier Doug Ford has backed off his long-standing resistance to vaccine passports and announced a program that will be fully implemented by the end of October.

Ford’s announcement means Ontario is now joining British Columbia and Manitoba in addition to Quebec by requiring proof of vaccination for certain activities. (Saskatchewan is working on a vaccination passport, but it has not made vaccinations mandatory for any activity or job.)

There are important differences between the provinces. For example, the Quebec list of places that require vaccination are longer and stricter than Ontario’s when it starts later this month. Eating in a restaurant in Quebec will require vaccination whether indoors or on an outdoor terrace. Ontario’s measure will only apply indoors, raising questions about how patio diners will use washrooms or, in many places, even enter outdoor dining areas.

The reaction of companies is mixed. The Canadian Chamber of Commerce last month called for clear rules on compulsory vaccination governments and vaccine passports. But some individual business owners, especially those with restaurants, have expressed concerns about checking their customers and enforcing the rules.

No province has a general compulsory vaccination policy. But vaccination passports and vaccination warrants from employers or governments have raised privacy and human rights concerns.

I asked Errol Mendes, a professor of law at the University of Ottawa who specializes in human rights, if the mandatory vaccinations were likely to be canceled by a court.

He said a person fired for refusing vaccination under a vaccination mandate issued by an employer could file a complaint under provincial human rights codes. Likewise, unions could argue that the layoffs violate their collective agreements. In the case of government-mandated vaccines, the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms would come into play.

“But it is not certain that either of these legal challenges would necessarily succeed,” Professor Mendes said.

It is much more likely, he said, that such a case would follow the pattern set by the Supreme Court of Newfoundland when a provincial travel ban was challenged. She found that the ban did violate part of the charter but was nonetheless legal because it was a reasonable restriction in the context of the pandemic.

Before calling the election, Trudeau said the government would require vaccines for its public servants, employees in federally regulated industries and passengers on trains, planes and cruise ships. Jagmeet Singh, the leader of the New Democratic Party, made a similar proposal and even set Monday as the deadline. Erin O’Toole, the Conservative leader, is not in favor of mandatory vaccinations.

As was the case in British Columbia and Quebec, Ontario’s announcement regarding proof of vaccination was immediately followed by an increase in vaccination reservations.

As for the anti-vaccine protesters, there is no immediate sign that they will take the Vancouver mayor’s advice and stay at home. But they are probably not who they claim to be. The Ontario Hospital Association said that, contrary to claims by protesters in Toronto, it believes “the majority of those attending these rallies were not healthcare workers.”

He has also made it clear that their protests are not welcome.

“By denying the effectiveness of the Covid-19 vaccines, they have also inflicted moral damage on healthcare workers who work tirelessly on the front lines to care for sick and dying patients from this dangerous virus,” the group said. “It’s a bitter irony that if any of these anti-vaccine protesters get sick or seriously ill from Covid, it will be the hospitals and frontline workers they will turn to for treatment. “



A native of Windsor, Ontario, Ian Austen was educated in Toronto, lives in Ottawa and has reported on Canada for The New York Times for the past 16 years. Follow him on Twitter at @ianrausten.


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