A series of planned protests at hospitals nationwide against pandemic-related restrictions is being roundly denounced by federal party leaders, with NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh vowing criminal sanctions to dissuade similar gatherings in the future if his party is elected to govern.
A group calling itself Canadian Frontline Nurses has looked to organize what it dubs “silent vigils” at hospitals across the country in response to public health restrictions aimed at slowing the spread of COVID-19, which they call “tyrannical measures and government overreach.”
Provincial and local politicians have warned anyone showing up to not block anyone from entering hospitals, adding that police are ready to maintain access for patients, doctors and nurses if necessary.
Speaking in Sioux Lookout, Ont., Singh said he would make changes to the Criminal Code to dissuade anyone from protesting close to a hospital or health-care workers.
He said a federal government can’t ban protests, nor can it limit where people can demonstrate, like provinces such as Ontario have done with bubbles around abortion clinics and farms.
Singh pointed to his party’s platform that pledges to make it a Criminal Code offence to harass or obstruct someone from accessing medical care, and provide harsher penalties for anyone assaulting a health-care worker, as a way to dissuade people from protesting at hospitals.
He said protesting in hospitals was different than demonstrating elsewhere, such as rail lines, noting that blockading a hospital could mean someone dies.
“It is not the space, it is not the place to protest,” Singh said in front of his campaign plane in the northern Ontario town.
“If you’re in any way threatening health-care workers, impeding their ability to go to work, you’re impeding patients’ access to care. If cancer patients aren’t being able to get into the hospital, that is just not on.”
The issue of vaccinations and how to respond to the pandemic has been a mainstay of the federal campaign, which wraps up in one week on Sept. 20.
Anti-vaccine and anti-mask protesters have dogged Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau along the campaign trail, even pelting him with gravel at one stop, after he promised to forge ahead with mandatory vaccination rules for travellers.
The Liberals have looked to use the issue of vaccines and public health measures as a wedge against Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole.
Speaking in the rural Ottawa suburb of Carp, O’Toole said the planned protests “completely unacceptable,” calling for unity even as he denounced Trudeau with sharpened personal attacks.
“There is the ability to peacefully protest and things like this, but to harass and to try and block people from accessing health care in a pandemic is completely unacceptable,” O’Toole said.
“Now is the time for us to work together, using all the tools we have – including vaccines, rapid tests, distancing, masks – in our fight against COVID-19. We need to come together as a country in this crisis, not divide ourselves.”
Trudeau will speak later today during a return visit to Vancouver.
Meanwhile, Green Party Leader Annamie Paul is making a rare campaign stop outside of Toronto as she visits with party candidates in Prince Edward Island.
With one week to election day, the parties are honing their messages hoping to land any final support.
Monday marked the final of four days of advance polls, and Elections Canada said Sunday that 1.3 million people came out on Friday, more than what was recorded on the first day of advance polls in the 2019 vote.