Politicians issue warnings ahead of hospital protests expected across Canada

A protest attracted hundreds of people along Sherbrook Street outside the Health Sciences Centre on September 1, 2021. (Source: Scott Andersson/ CTV News Winnipeg)

   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.

   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.

   But 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."

   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."

   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.