Health-care workers were abused and harassed at anti-vaccine-passport rallies outside B.C. hospitals on Wednesday.
Kathy MacNeil, president and CEO of the Island Health, said some workers at health-care facilities were verbally abused as they came to and from work, and at least one staff member was physically assaulted.
“I am proud my country supports the democratic right to peaceful protest. However, some of today’s protests disrupted safe access to health-care facilities,” she said in a statement.
“Our health-care teams deserve respect and support, no matter what personal beliefs we hold,” she said.
“What happened to our health-care teams today is not acceptable to me nor to the people and communities they serve.”
An Island Health representative contacted by the Times Colonist said no specifics of the assault were available, although other media reported that it occurred at Nanaimo Regional General Hospital.
MacNeil thanked those who showed support for health-care workers on Wednesday. “It means the world to us at Island Health.”
Premier John Horgan also took issue with protesters targeting and harassing health-care workers.
“We stand by our health-care workers and support them fully,” Horgan said in a statement.
“Health-care workers have been true heroes throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, working long hours in difficult conditions to care for us, our loved ones and to keep our communities safe.
“The intent of every COVID-19 guideline and restriction that we’ve put in place since the beginning of the pandemic is to keep people healthy.”
A rally was also held outside the B.C. legislature, where several hundred people gathered.
Protesters held signs calling for an end to vaccine passports, with some carrying blown-up copies of Canada’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
Starting Sept. 13, British Columbians 12 years and older will need to provide proof of at least one dose of vaccine to enter non-essential businesses and events — such as sports competitions, nightclubs, restaurants and movies — and by Oct. 24, only fully vaccinated people will be permitted entry.
Protests were also held at Cowichan District Hospital in Duncan and Nanaimo Regional General Hospital, where about 300 people gathered, and in Vancouver, Kamloops and Kelowna.
Victoria police said they were aware of Wednesday’s protest at the legislature, but did not have a presence in the area. “We check these things as much as we can and we stop by to make sure everyone is safe,” said spokesman Const. Cam MacIntyre. “If we felt it was unsafe, we would assign members to the area.”
In Nanaimo, the RCMP’s bike squad was on hand to monitor the protest, which was close to the main entrance of the hospital at Dufferin Crescent and Boundary Avenue. Police were at the protest in Duncan to maintain access to the hospital.
In Vancouver, hundreds of maskless anti-vaccine protesters gathered outside Vancouver City Hall, shouting obscenities, in a protest that briefly occupied Vancouver General Hospital. Intersections along Cambie Street, including at 12th and Broadway, were choked by protesters or police.
The crowd was largely anti-vaccine and anti-government. Some in Q-Anon shirts were spotted, along with children carrying signs reading “my body my choice.”
In Kelowna, upwards of a thousand people turned out at Kelowna General Hospital to protest vaccine passports.
“We believe that the ability to move freely in society without being surveilled is a basic human right. The introduction of a QR system that requires user scan before entry would violate this privacy,” said one of the protest organizers in a document distributed to the media prior to the event.
“This is a big encroachment on our freedom that leads to them to being able to take more steps. Sure this is one thing and we want to protect everyone, but if you do this, where are you going to stop?” a protester named Nicole told Castanet.
Most protesters were unwilling to speak on the record or on camera.
The location of the protest outside Kelowna General Hospital, which houses the region’s COVID-19 unit and has experienced massive staffing struggles and burnout in recent months, drew condemnation from elected and health officials.
“I think anybody who feels the need to protest at a hospital, and put further stress on our health-care workers is completely disrespectful and unjustified,” Kelowna Mayor Colin Basran said. “These health-care workers have not made any of the decisions or restrictions that have been placed upon us.”
Basran said he admires how health-care workers have been encouraging people to get vaccinated and called the protests “completely misguided.”
“It just speaks to the level of intellect of those involved, because they clearly don’t understand who’s making the decisions, but it’s not Kelowna city council or health-care workers.”
“I am very supportive of our health-care workers and all that they are going through, and seeing how difficult the circumstances are in which they are working, keeping those alive who have contracted COVID, most of them not vaccinated,” the mayor said.
Liberal MLA for Penticton Dan Ashton said on Twitter that he is “greatly disappointed” that a hospital would be targeted with a protest.
“My sincere thanks to all of those who work in our hospitals during these challenging times,” Ashton tweeted.
Central Okanagan-Similkameen-Nicola Conservative MP Dan Albas also condemned the location of the protest.
“The caring people who work in this hospital have been run off their feet. It is well known the COVID ward is beyond capacity. The people who work in health care during this pandemic deserve our gratitude and support. This protest should have been held elsewhere,” Albas tweeted.
MLA for Kelowna-Mission and B.C. Liberal health critic Renee Merrifield said “health care professionals and first responders do not deserve this protest.”
“If you have a problem with a decision taken by the provincial government, protest in front of my office. Leave our nurses and doctors alone,” she tweeted.