Dave Obee: Support health-care workers, not the mob

The red heart on our masthead first appeared on April 3, 2020, the day after we ran a full-page window-friendly heart flag. We encouraged our readers to use the flag to show support for health-care workers and others on the front lines in the fight against COVID-19.

The heart is still there, in every edition and on our website. Our commitment to those who are doing all they can to save lives is as strong as it ever was.

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This needs to be restated in the aftermath of Wednesday’s protests against masks, vaccines and mandates, protests that were aimed at health-care workers across the province.

Protest is a right. Thuggish behaviour is not. It is not acceptable to hurl abuse at and attempt to intimidate essential workers who have been overworked and overstressed for a year and a half.

These people have put their own health, physical and mental, at risk as they scramble to save lives. Yet every day, they show up for another shift.

We support them. The vast majority of people support them. We need to drown out the ignorant mob of those opposed to public health measures.

And what about Dr. Bonnie Henry, the province’s top doctor? She’s leading the fight against COVID-19, a fight without precedent in our lifetimes. Hers is a thankless job; I would guess that a few million people could find some sort of quibble with something she has said along the way.

That’s OK. We are allowed, if not encouraged, to question what public officials tell us. But remember this: When it comes to pandemics and public health, Henry has more training and experience than you, than me, or anyone else in the province.

That doesn’t matter to some. She gets hate mail and death threats. She opens herself to verbal abuse and physical risk whenever she appears in public. Think your freedom has been restricted by COVID? Henry has lost more than you have.

And now the protesters have reached into the Trump playbook with shouts of “lock her up.” In the middle of a public health crisis, these braying fools believe Henry should be jailed. It’s a highly offensive, and highly ignorant, thing to say — and also a reminder of what we are dealing with.

A few days ago, columnist Geoff Johnson used the word “stupid” to describe those who are challenging health authorities. That harsh word drew complaints from some readers, but I would argue that as a society, it’s time to stop being so darn delicate.

Consider that while the government is offering vaccines for free, there are people in our community ready to pay for, and use, horse medicine instead. If that’s not stupid, what is?

Those people have fallen victim to the lies and misinformation that seems to be coming from all sides, and are at greater risk of falling victim to — and infecting our loved ones with — COVID as a result.

People who spread quack theories are working against Henry, the health-care workers, and all of us. Those who claim to be fighting for freedom are trying to take it from us.

The protests are getting uglier and more aggressive. That’s what happens with bullies; unless they are challenged, they get bolder.

Last weekend, our photographer Darren Stone was called an “enemy of the people” when he tried to cover an anti-everything protest. The protest on Wednesday was just as ugly.

“Today I was threatened, followed, called disgusting, called a liar, told to remove my mask and eventually forced to leave Victoria’s anti-vax card protest,” CTV’s Scott Cunningham tweeted.

People walking or riding past the protests are being yelled at — but try to imagine what it is like for health-care workers. One of those workers in Nanaimo was assaulted during the Wednesday protest.

It’s time to stand up to the goons. We need to drown out the voices of those who are, through ignorance or anger, hurting the entire community. And above all, we need to assure health-care workers that yes, we are on their side.

A newspaper’s masthead is an essential part of its brand identity, and is not changed on a whim. For 17 months, we have used it to show our support for health-care workers. With ignorant mobs screaming obscenities at those trying to save lives, the people on the front lines need your support more than ever.

Dave Obee is editor and ­publisher of the Times Colonist.

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