Toronto police ready to arrest anyone who obstructs ambulances at anti-vaccine protest, mayor says
TORONTO -- Toronto Mayor John Tory is condemning any participation in a protest at hospital doors ahead of a planned anti-vax rally at Toronto General Hospital Monday, warning that police are prepared to arrest anyone who blocks ambulance access to the facility.
“We all have a right to protest but abusing that right in order to harass people outside a hospital and spread misinformation about vaccines in the middle of the pandemic is unacceptable and beyond the pale,” Tory said in a statement Sunday evening.
“It’s unfair to our healthcare heroes and everyone trying to attend hospitals for treatment.”
In a post on social media, Toronto police reiterated this sentiment, saying that while they respect everyone's right to peacefully protest, 'hospital operations and public safety cannot be disrupted in any way.'
"Officers will be present and monitoring and charges will be laid where warranted," they said.
For weeks now groups opposed to COVID-19 vaccine mandates and related masking and lockdown rules have staged protests in front of hospitals across the country. Toronto’s Hospital Row is a planned gathering point for another rally Monday.
“To see this protest happening just outside of our workplaces and patients being intimidated, health care workers being intimated as well, it’s very disturbing,” Birgit Umaigba, critical care nurse and Centennial College instructor told CTV Toronto.
Umaigba knows of several nurses who plan not to attend work Monday for fear of encountering protests at hospital doors.
“They are not the place to be yelling and screaming and intimidating,” warned Michael Garron Hospital critical care director Dr. Michael Warner. “Especially when so many people on the other side of the doors of those hospitals are suffering from the disease that certain people refuse to get vaccinated for.”
“It’s demoralizing, it’s disheartening,” downtown ICU nurse Vikky Leung told CTV Toronto Sunday.
Leung started a change.org petition supporting legislated safe zones around hospitals to prevent bullying, writing that “it is not okay for anyone to be concerned for their safety, or worried about obstructions, when accessing healthcare or going to work to provide care for others.”
Her patients, said Leung, are especially vulnerable.
“They have to walk through these protests, and it’s scary, when you’re immunocompromised, you don’t know if these people are vaccinated. Likely they’re not— that’s why they’re protesting,” she said.
Opposition Leader Andrea Horwath is urging Ontario Premier Doug Ford to pass a bill that would create "public health safety zones" in an effort to reduce harassment.
"My Safety Zone bill would make this targeted intimidation a provincial offence. Instead of hiding out, Ford can come back to work and pass my bill to stop the harassment right now," she tweeted Sunday.
The legislature has been proprogued until after the federal election.
Meanwhile, the premier took to social media to call the protests "selfish, cowardly and reckless.”
“Our health care workers have sacrificed so much to keep us all safe during this pandemic. They don’t deserve this kind of treatment — not now, not ever. Leave our health care workers alone," Ford tweeted Sunday.
Tory said that he had been promised by Toronto Police Chief James Ramer that should any protest happen at a hospital, officers would ensure that health-care workers would be protected and patients and ambulance would not be blocked from accessing the building.