Liberals would make it a criminal offence to block health-care buildings, threaten workers

A re-elected Liberal government would make it a criminal offence to block access to buildings that provide health-care services as well as threaten or intimidate those that work there.

Speaking in Vancouver on Monday, Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau said it’s “not OK” that hospitals across the country are having to put up barricades to protect against anti-vaccination protests.

“To know that a nurse, going into a late shift, crossing a parking lot, might be afraid that there’s going to be someone there to spit on her or shout obscenities at her – that’s not OK,” Trudeau said.

“It’s unfortunate really, that we have to get to this point where we have to point out that that’s not something that should be done.”

Several protests were scheduled for Monday at hospitals across Canada to raise issue with public health measures put in place to curb COVID-19 spread, including proof-of-vaccination documentation.

A group called Canadian Frontline Nurses sought to rally supporters for a “silent vigil to honour those affected by measures put in place over the last year an a half.”

They say they are taking a stand to “tyrannical measures and government overreach.”

Provincial and municipal politicians have issued warnings about the protests.

As highlighted in their platform, the Liberals would also table legislation to ensure that businesses and organizations that decide to require proof-of-vaccination from employees or customers “can do so without fear or legal challenge.”

Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole condemned any harassment outside hospitals on Monday.

“This harassment of our frontline nurses, doctors, is completely unacceptable. We all owe a huge debt of thanks to our frontlines, to those nurses, to the folks in our hospitals. I appreciate and respect them,” he said.

The party’s platform states that a Conservative government would pass the “Critical Infrastructure Protection Act” to prevent protestors from blocking key infrastructure. It makes specific reference to last year’s Wet'suwet'en rail blockades.

“Peaceful protest is a fundamental right in Canada, but respect for the rule of law means that illegal blockades that shut down critical infrastructure, threaten access to vital supplies, or endanger lives cannot be tolerated,” the document reads.

O’Toole said he has “great faith” in local law enforcement to make sure people can access services.

NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh said there is “no space at all” for protests that threaten health-care workers or patients.

“It is wrong, it is not the place for protests,” he said. “What we are doing at the federal level to achieve this goal is that we would make it an aggravating element of a sentence if someone was in any way threatening a health-care worker, threatening patients, impeding their ability to access care.”

The Liberals’ campaign pledge would include protections around hospitals, vaccine clinics, testing centres, pharmacies and abortion clinics.

Trudeau said there are already provisions in the Criminal Code of Canada that prevent the intimidation of journalists or those working in the justice system. He said it’s time to include health-care workers under that umbrella.

“We think that these people deserve our highest level of protection because they have done so much for all of us over these past 18 months,” he said.

Trudeau appears to be referencing Section 423.1 of the Criminal Code, which prohibits any “conduct with the intent to provoke a state of fear” that impede the administration of criminal justice, impede a justice system participant from conducting their duties or impede a journalist “in the transmission to the public of information in relation to a criminal organization.”

Daniel Brown, lead counsel at Daniel Brown Law LLP in Toronto, believes some of Monday’s protests could already constitute mischief, as the offence includes anyone who willfully “obstructs, interrupts or interferes with the lawful use, enjoyment or operation of property” or “obstructs, interrupts or interferes with any person in the lawful use, enjoyment or operation of property.”

“The Criminal Code already prevents protesters from blocking essential services such as hospitals or other property and prevents protesters from blocking individuals access to those services,” Brown wrote in an email to CTVNews.ca.

Brown also mentions that these protests may have prevented people from accessing life-saving treatment, the protesters could also face a separate charge of criminal mischief that endangers someone’s life.

“A person guilty of this offence can receive up to life in prison,” he said.

“For anyone who commits mischief to property, a maximum sentence of 10 years in jail is available. It would be unlikely that someone engaged in this behaviour for the first time would receive a jail sentence as a consequence but could receive a criminal record and a court order preventing them attending at the hospital.”

Meanwhile, health-care workers have called on the protesters to take their message to provincial and federal legislatures.

“Stay away from patients, stay away from health-care workers, we don’t want to see you there, we don’t want to hear you there. Speak to the people who can make decisions and make policy changes if you don’t like them but leave us alone,” Dr. Michael Warner, intensive care unit physician at Michael Garron Hospital in Toronto, told CTV News Channel on Monday.

With files from CTVNews.ca Writer Ben Cousins