Ontario Hospital Association says anti-vaccine protests outside hospitals went too far

Protesters listen to a speaker as they gather outside Toronto Police Headquarters to voice opposition to COVID-19 vaccines and other COVID-19 related restrictions on Thursday September 2, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chris Young

The head of the Ontario Hospital Association says that a series of raucous anti-vaccination protests outside several downtown hospitals this week "inflicted moral injury" on healthcare professionals who are exhausted from doing "everything in their power to protect and care" for patients infected with COVID-19.

Hundred of demonstrators blocked traffic along University Avenue at College Street on Wednesday as they protested vaccine mandates and shared misinformation about COVID-19 vaccines outside the entrances to Toronto General and Mt. Sinai hospitals.

The protest continued for hours, forcing some healthcare workers to go through the throngs of mask-less demonstrators to get to work.

On Friday, OHA President Anthony Dale broke his silence about the protests, releasing a statement in which he called them “truly disheartening” while noting that most of the participants were not healthcare workers.

He also slammed the protestors for making things harder on already overworked and overburdened hospital staff.

“By denying the effectiveness of COVID-19 vaccines they also inflicted moral injury on health care workers who are working tirelessly on the frontlines caring for patients sick and dying from this dangerous virus,” he said. “It is a bitter irony that should any of these anti-vaccine protesters get sick or seriously ill from COVID, it will be hospitals and frontline workers that they turn to for care, perhaps even to save their life.”

There have been frequent protests against public health measures throughout the COVID-19 pandemic but in recent weeks the demonstrations have increasingly targeted specific businesses and institutions, including several dining establishments owned by a restauranteur who has advocated for vaccine passports.

Earlier this week, NDP Leader Andrea Horwath promised that her party would bring forward legislation to create “public health safety zones” in an effort to reduce harassment though it is unclear exactly how her plan would work.

In a separate statement issued on Friday, the Ontario Medical Association and Canadian Medical Association said there has been an escalation in anti-vaccine messaging “in certain cities and communities” with some protests “precluding access to much-needed health care settings.”

They said that given a worsening fourth wave of the pandemic driven by the Delta variant, “it has has never been more important to stand with our health care colleagues and deplore any and all online or in-person threats.”

“The health care workers who have worked tirelessly for months on end are being bullied and harassed for doing their jobs,” the statement notes. “This is wrong and unacceptable – full stop. We are in a health crisis of unprecedented proportions.”