Dozens of protesters target Toronto hospital to protest vaccine mandates after ‘silent vigil’ in Queen’s Park
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This article was published 13/09/2021 (632 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
Dozens of protestors, 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 health-care workers who arrived to counterprotest, 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,” responded Riches. “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 re-elected, 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 protestors 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 non-stop 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.
Earlier this month, Canadian Frontline Nurses and their supporters blocked traffic in front of Hospital Row for hours, jeering hospital 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.
With files from Kieran Leavitt, Robert Benzie, David Rider, Wendy Gillis and The Canadian Press
Jenna Moon is a breaking news reporter for the Star and is based in Toronto. Follow her on Twitter: @_jennamoon
Ivy Mak is a team editor on the Star’s breaking news desk, based in Toronto. Reach her via email: firstname.lastname@example.org