Indy Sahota, a Toronto physician, was on his way to work at Mount Sinai Hospital’s emergency department on Wednesday afternoon when he came upon a large protest outside the building.
As he got closer, he heard people chanting anti-vaccine slogans.
Hundreds of protesters were blocking the intersection in front of the hospital. “Cars weren’t able to go anywhere, which is a big problem for us because our ambulance bay is actually right at that intersection,” Dr. Sahota said.
Protesters in Ontario, British Columbia and Quebec have taken to busy streets and hospital entrances in the past week to voice their discontent with vaccine passports, which all three provinces have recently moved to implement.
Once the passports come into effect, they will prevent unvaccinated people from entering non-essential gathering places such as indoor restaurants and gyms. Surveys have shown that three-quarters of Canadians approve of the restrictions. But a vocal minority continues to oppose the idea. And their protests, medical professionals say, may in some cases be hindering health care.
“I was surprised by the audacity of doing this outside a hospital,” Dr. Sahota said. “I just felt so defeated.”
Police officers on the scene at Mount Sinai received no reports of protesters blocking ambulances from reaching the hospital, and would have made arrests if they had observed anyone doing so, Toronto Police Service spokesperson Connie Osborne said in an e-mail.
She added that people have the right to protest, but that everyone has the right not to be harassed. “Officers will try to engage with all groups of protesters and will remind them of the expected behaviour. If crimes are committed, officers can make arrests at the time, where warranted,” she said.
Ontario Premier Doug Ford announced the province’s vaccine passport regime on Wednesday. It will take effect on Sept. 22. Since the announcement, protests have happened in multiple Toronto locations and also in Oshawa, to the city’s east.
The province had previously imposed vaccine policies on health care workers. And several Ontario cities, such as Toronto and Mississauga, had issued similar policies for their own employees.
Some protesters have said they are advocating against mandatory vaccination for specific groups. In a video from a protest outside the Toronto Police Service headquarters Thursday, one protester said, “Today we’re here to back the blue.” The service announced last month that it would require officers and civilian employees to be vaccinated, without specifying how it would deal with those who refuse.
“If people want to support police officers, we’d encourage them to go get vaccinated and keep all First Responders safe,” Ms. Osborne said.
The Toronto Police Association, which represents officers and civilian staff and has opposed mandatory vaccinations for its members, said in a statement that it did not support the protest and was not involved in it.
In B.C., where vaccine passports will go into effect on Sept. 13, a group of about 5,000 protesters crowded the front of Vancouver General Hospital on Wednesday to oppose a vaccine mandate for health care workers in the province. Smaller groups gathered in Kelowna, Victoria and Kamloops that afternoon for the same cause.
The RCMP arrested one protester on suspicion of assault. On Twitter, Vancouver Mayor Kennedy Stewart implored residents to “stay the hell home and stop doing this.”
In Montreal, thousands of anti-vaccine protesters took to downtown streets on Saturday. They eventually gathered by the Quebec Order of Nurses building. Quebec’s vaccine passport launched on Sept. 1, but penalties will not be enforced until Sept. 15.
Timothy Sly, a professor emeritus in epidemiology at Ryerson University’s School of Occupational and Public Health, said these protests are probably hot spots for viral transmission: People gather, use their voices, seldom wear masks and are potentially unvaccinated. He said he suspects that banning the marches would only inflame tensions, but thinks their disappearance would go a long way toward stifling Canada’s fourth wave of the pandemic.
“I think something has to be done, otherwise this pandemic will go on,” he said. “Variants come from highly active areas where there is viral replication. … That’s why we have to stamp these out.”
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