New Federal Democrats and Liberals pledged Monday to criminalize protesters blocking hospitals or harassing healthcare workers as party leaders denounced planned demonstrations in hospitals across the country.
A group calling itself Canadian Frontline Nurses has planned “silent vigils” in response to public health restrictions aimed at curbing the spread of COVID-19, which they say are “tyrannical measures and government overreach.”
Dozens of protesters gathered outside Toronto General Hospital, many to condemn Ontario’s proof-of-vaccination system that is scheduled to go into effect next week.
Police were also there as part of what local officials said would be an effort to maintain access for doctors, nurses and patients, if necessary.
Speaking in Sioux Lookout, Ontario, NDP leader Jagmeet Singh said that a federal government cannot ban protests, nor can it limit the places where people can demonstrate.
But Singh pointed to the Penal Code as a means of deterring such demonstrations from happening. His party’s platform is committed to making it a federal crime to harass or obstruct a person’s access to health care, and to impose harsher penalties for anyone who assaults a health worker.
He said that protesting in hospitals was different from protesting in other places, such as rail lines, and noted that blocking a hospital could mean someone’s death.
“It’s not space, it’s not the place to protest,” Singh said in front of his field plane in the northern Ontario city.
“If you are threatening healthcare workers in any way, impeding their ability to go to work, you are preventing patients from accessing care. If cancer patients cannot enter the hospital, it is just not over.”
The issue of vaccines and how to respond to the pandemic has been a mainstay of the federal campaign, which will conclude in a week on September 20.
Protesters against vaccines and masks have persecuted Liberal leader Justin Trudeau throughout the campaign, even dumping him with gravel at a stop, after he vowed to go ahead with mandatory vaccination rules for travelers.
Singh and Trudeau promise to suppress the demonstrations outside the hospitals. #ItsOurVote #CdnPoli # Elxn44 # COVID19
Hours after Singh spoke, Trudeau outlined an identical promise of criminal penalties for anyone who blocks access to hospitals, vaccine clinics, testing centers, pharmacies, and abortion clinics, and for those who intimidate or harass workers at the Health.
Speaking in Vancouver, Trudeau said the Penal Code already has provisions on intimidating people who work in the court system, but there is now a need to protect doctors and nurses in similar ways.
“It is not okay to know that a nurse who enters a late shift and crosses a parking lot may be afraid that someone is there to spit on her or yell obscenities at her,” Trudeau said in his opening remarks.
The Penal Code also prohibits intimidation, including the use of violence, making threats, or surveilling someone’s workplace, to prevent another person from doing something they have a legitimate right to do.
The Liberal leader took aim at Conservative leader Erin O’Toole, as Trudeau repeatedly sought to use the issue of vaccines and public health measures as a breach.
Speaking in the rural Ottawa suburb of Carp, O’Toole said the planned protests are “completely unacceptable” and called for unity even as he denounced Trudeau with sharp personal attacks.
“There is the ability to peacefully protest and things like that, but harassing and trying to block people’s access to health care in a pandemic is completely unacceptable,” O’Toole said.
“Now is the time to work together, using all the tools we have – including vaccines, rapid tests, distancing, masks – in our fight against COVID-19. We need to unite as a country in this crisis, not divide.” Ourselves.”
When asked what he would do if elected, O’Toole said he trusted local officials to handle the situation. His party’s platform includes a notice board to create a Penal Code offense for anyone who interferes with “critical infrastructure,” which includes pipelines, rail lines and, according to the party, also hospitals.
Meanwhile, Green Party leader Annamie Paul made a rare campaign stop outside Toronto on Monday while visiting candidates on Prince Edward Island, a place where the Greens have made political inroads as the Official Opposition in the provincial legislature.
Paul pointed to that success and the more than a dozen laws the provincial party has promoted as something that voters in other parts of the country should consider when casting their vote.
Monday marked the end of four days of early polls, and Elections Canada said Sunday that 1.3 million people turned out on Friday, more than was recorded on the first day of early polls in the 2019 vote.
This Canadian Press report was first published on September 13, 2021.
– With files from Liam Casey in Toronto