Manitoba NDP introduces bill to create protest buffer zones outside health-care centres

Manitoba NDP Justice Critic Nahanni Fontaine introduced a bill at the Manitoba Legislature Friday that would create buffer zones outside health-care centres to prevent protests.

The Protest Buffer Zone Act would create zones around hospitals, schools, as well as COVID-19 testing and vaccination sites.

“The fact that I have to introduce a bill like this today is quite disheartening,” Fontaine said.

She said the bill would prevent demonstrations like the anti-vaccine passport protest that happened in September outside the Health Sciences Centre in Winnipeg.

Shared Health told CTV News at the time they heard from staff and patients who had trouble accessing the facility or who were aggressively harassed for wearing masks.

The spokesperson said some patients opted to cancel their appointments rather than approach protesters standing near the entrance.

“We saw on Sept. 1 something that no Manitoban ever would have dreamed we would have seen, particularly in the midst of a global pandemic,” Fontaine said. “I received so many messages from Manitobans who were trying to access the HSC and from those folks who are on the front lines of COVID. It was a kick in the gut for those individuals who have put themselves and their lives on the line for the last 18 months.”

According to the Manitoba NDP, similar legislation was passed in British Columbia and Quebec following anti-vaccine protests outside hospitals in those provinces. They say the Alberta government is also amending previous legislation to include hospitals in buffer zones.

Manitoba Premier Kelvin Goertzen said he has not yet read the bill, but doesn’t believe it’s appropriate to prevent people from accessing hospitals, regardless of the reason.

However, he said the PCs introduced a similar bill that was blocked by the NDP in the spring that potentially could have prevented the September protest.

The Protection of Critical Infrastructure Act, otherwise known as Bill 57, proposed owners and operators of some infrastructure could apply for a court order to create temporary protection zones from demonstrations.

“Obviously, this is something that probably has to have a bit more discussion,” he said. “There’s a broader discussion now going on around the country about access to hospitals for reasons that we’ve seen.”

Fontaine disagrees, saying Bill 57 was introduced to prevent protests in the very areas that were meant for protest.

“Bill 57 would have prevented people from protesting in front of the Manitoba Legislature. That’s what this building is for,” she said.

Meanwhile, Goertzen said he’d like to take a closer look at Fontaine’s bill and have further discussions on it.

He reiterated that the Manitoba Legislature is an appropriate place to hold protests and not hospitals.

“Conceptually, we want to ensure that people have access to hospitals, whether that’s through this piece of legislation, another piece of legislation, or things that already exist within legislation,” he said. “I’m not sure that there aren’t pieces of legislation, (or) the Criminal Code, that couldn’t already be used to ensure people can get into hospitals and don’t feel intimidated not to be able to.”

- With files from CTV’s Danton Unger