B.C. introducing legislation to protect schools, hospitals from protesters

The B.C. government is introducing legislation to protect schools and hospitals from disruptive protests, according to Public Safety Minister Mike Farnworth.

Farnworth confirmed the province's plans on Monday, as the legislature returned for a session that's scheduled to continue until the end of November.

Premier John Horgan first floated the idea of creating bubble zones around schools and hospitals last month following a series of alarming anti-vaccine demonstrations, including one that saw thousands of people crowd outside Vancouver General Hospital.

Officials were then unclear whether the policy would be implemented by legislation, which requires a vote, or through ministry regulations.

"I can confirm that it will be legislation and it will be introduced later this session," Farnworth said Monday.

The minister did not share any further details about the government's plans, including how far protesters could be required to keep away from hospitals and schools, or what kind of potential penalties violators could face.

During another of last month's protests, vaccine opponents allegedly entered several schools in Salmon Arm, forcing officials to place the buildings under "hold and secure" measures for the remainder of the day.

"I think all British Columbians are perplexed that people who have a different point of view – a minority view – would choose to disrupt children in education settings or patients in health-care settings to get their point across," Horgan said of the demonstrations.

"I'm hopeful that we've seen the last of that type of behaviour but we want to ensure that that doesn't happen again."

It's unclear when officials are planning to introduce the new legislation.

The B.C. legislature is allowed to operate at full capacity this session, meaning all 87 MLAs can attend in person if they choose. There is also an option for them to attend virtually if they have concerns around COVID-19.

Farnworth noted that every MLA and staff member is fully vaccinated, and visitors will be required to provide proof of vaccination the same way they would at a restaurant or movie theatre.

"We're confident in the rules and protocols that were established with the guidance of the provincial health officer," he said.