A Toronto hospital where protests against COVID-19 measures are planned today says such demonstrations are demoralizing.
The University Health Network, which runs Toronto General Hospital, says staff who have cared for the people dying of COVID-19 are particularly disheartened.
Some high-ranking Ontario politicians and prominent health-care organizations are issuing warnings ahead of a number of protests expected to take place at hospitals across Canada today.
An organization calling itself Canadian Frontline Nurses posted notices of “silent vigils” expected to take place in all 10 provinces, saying they’re meant to critique public health measures put in place to curb the spread of COVID-19.
Prospective locations include the Winnipeg Health Sciences Centre, Toronto General Hospital and the Queen Elizabeth II Health Sciences Centre in Halifax.
Organizers say they want to take a stand against what they call “tyrannical measures and government overreach,” adding that they are not encouraging nurses to walk out on their shifts or abandon patients.
The University Health Network said health-care workers have been caring for COVID-19 patients for 18 months despite risks to themselves and their families.
“Vaccinations offer the best chance of preventing hospitalizations, admissions to ICUs and ventilations to preserve life,” the hospital network said in a statement.
“To see protests in front of hospitals is demoralizing for all who work here but particularly for the staff who have cared for the people dying of COVID-19, often without all of their family and loved ones around them.”
Ontario Premier Doug Ford, whose province was among those targeted by similar past protests after he announced plans for a proof-of-vaccine system, condemned the latest round on Sunday in a tweet describing such events as “selfish, cowardly and reckless.”
The Registered Nurses Association of Ontario and Ontario Medical Association issued a joint statement “strongly condemning” the planned disruptions and calling for designated safe zones around health-care facilities to protect staff and patients — a proposal the province’s New Democrats have also floated.
“Nurses, doctors and other health-care workers have been working around the clock on the front lines of the pandemic for 18 months helping to keep our communities safe,” Sunday’s joint statement reads. “These COVID-19 heroes need the resources and supports to continue the battle — now in the thick of a fourth wave. They cannot and must not be distracted, or worse, discouraged by protests at the doorsteps of their workplaces.”
Several nurses and doctors at The Ottawa Hospital said last week they had to constantly remind themselves that the protesters were not the majority.
Dr. Kwadwo Kyerementang, head of critical care at The Ottawa Hospital, said it’s important to not let the small numbers who are protesting undermine the positive reaction health workers have received from most Canadians.
“I don’t want the select few to be the loud voice,” he said. “Our staff, they’ve hustled, they’ve put in the extra mile there. And I know most of Canadians, most of Ontarians, most of the people in Ottawa are so appreciative of our efforts. We hear it daily.”
Kyerementang also said protesting is fine but blocking access to hospitals for patients is not.
“The one thing that I would say that does bother me is whatever your protest should be, it shouldn’t obstruct care,” he said.
Toronto Mayor John Tory also took to social media to condemn the protests planned for some city hospitals, adding he’s been in contact with the local police chief about the events and received assurances that staff would be protected and patients could access the buildings.
“I support police in taking whatever action is necessary to protect the lives of innocent people seeking medical care and all of our healthcare heroes,” Tory wrote on Twitter. “We have long passed the time when we can have this tyranny of a few interfere with access to healthcare during a pandemic.”
Some federal party leaders also addressed the planned demonstrations while out on the hustings.
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.
NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh said it is wrong to protest at hospitals.
“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,” he said while campaigning in Sioux Lookout, Ont.
Past protests have centred on both public health measures and the prospect of proof-of-vaccination systems that would limit access to many public settings for those who have not been immunized against COVID-19.
British Columbia’s system takes effect on Monday, while Ontario’s is set to launch on Sept. 22.
Quebec’s rolled out earlier this month, Manitoba began issuing vaccine cards in June, and both Nova Scotia and Yukon have said proof-of-vaccination systems are in the works.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 13, 2021.
–With files from Mia Rabson and Allison Jones