If the anti-science, pro-virus mobs that have been protesting outside hospitals plan to shift focus to schools or any other place where children gather — as one Winnipeg organizer suggested they may do — they’re in for a rude awakening.
The tiny minority of indoctrinated, hopelessly misinformed Canadians who have been recently harassing health-care workers and patients are discovering their threatening, coercive actions will not be tolerated.
They are free to protest all they want against COVID-19 vaccines, mandatory mask rules or any other public health measure. There are no laws against willful ignorance.
However, their constitutionally protected right to free speech ends when their actions threaten the health and safety of others. It’s called "reasonable limits" under Canada’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
Protests against pandemic response measures continued outside hospitals across the country Monday. Police were present to ensure vulnerable patients and exhausted health-care workers were protected from the small but persistent cadre of anti-vaccination protesters who appear hell-bent on prolonging the pandemic.
In Winnipeg, a planned protest outside Health Sciences Centre was shifted to city hall. After a severe public backlash against a similar protest at HSC last week and warnings from police, organizers said they changed venues because of the negative impact it had on the hospital. (Wasn’t that the point of the first protest, to interfere with the operation of a hospital?)
The same organizers say their next target will be the province’s vaccination policies in public schools.
If that means bringing their placards and brainwashed minds to school grounds where parents and buses drop off children to attend class, they will find the public response even more fierce.
Governments around the world are requiring staff in health-care settings, public schools, child care centres and other areas where employees work directly with vulnerable people to be fully vaccinated.
Most, including the Manitoba government, are allowing those who refuse (or cannot for a legitimate reason) get vaccinated to undergo regular testing as an alternative.
The measure, along with other mandates (such as requiring proof-of-immunization to enter certain public places) are reasonable, safe and highly effective strategies to reduce the spread of a deadly virus, save lives and protect hospital capacity.
They do not infringe on anyone’s rights. Those who choose not to get vaccinated — no matter how reckless and flawed their rationale — are free to do so. It is indeed their body and their choice. But their rights end when they infringe on the rights of others.
Willfully spreading a deadly virus that can be controlled through immunization and other measures violates the rights of others. Vaccine mandates protect the rights of the vast majority of society.
People have the freedom to protest. It’s a cornerstone of our democracy; it is constitutionally protected. But the charter doesn’t allow people to protest however or wherever they want.
It guarantees the freedom of "peaceful assembly." It doesn’t mean harassing health-care workers and patients as they enter hospitals. It doesn’t mean protesting outside of schools and badgering children and teachers.
It means people have the right to assemble and speak their minds without threatening others. Those rights and freedoms are subject to reasonable limits prescribed by law "as can be demonstrably justified in a free and democratic society."
If that means enacting new laws to prevent protesters from harassing and intimidating others, that’s what governments will have to do.
There will be no tolerance for the small, rogue group of people who plan to terrorize hospitals, schools or any place where patients, children, teachers and vulnerable people require access. Canadians won't stand for it.
Tom has been covering Manitoba politics since the early 1990s and joined the Winnipeg Free Press news team in 2019.