Nili Kaplan-Myrth, is a family doctor who writes about health policy and politics. She co-hosts the podcast Rx:Advocacy.ca.
I am afraid. I can no longer walk to work alone. I startle awake at night. I’ve ramped up my security but still my sense of safety has gone out the window.
A couple of months ago, I stood up in front of Queen’s Park and asserted that “we aren’t seeking normal, we are seeking safety.” It was late August and I had organized a panel to talk about what we needed for a safe September for our children at school. We called for better ventilation in schools, higher quality masks, and mandates for COVID-19 vaccination for all educators and staff who interact with children. We spoke to the news media and reached out to politicians. We were all busy and exhausted from a summer immunizing our patients and advocating for marginalized populations, seniors, children and others in our communities.
Nobody is safe until we are all safe, I said.
The next day, the anti-vaccination protests started in the streets outside of hospitals across Canada. Throngs of people blocked ambulances. They were disruptive to patients seeking care and disrespectful of the staff hard at work indoors. The media caught ample footage of those hostilities.
What’s hidden from view – then and now – is the daily, private onslaught of nastiness directed at those of us who stand up for science, for vaccines and for your safety and care. We are bombarded with vitriol from anti-vaccination and anti-science trolls on social media. Some of these perpetrators go even further.
This past week, I was targeted by one such individual. Someone I have never met sent a threat, guised as a complaint, to the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario. The letter started with, “Complaint versus criminal fraudulent chart violating Nazi slut,” and then the person went on to threaten to kill me in retribution for immunizing my patients and others in Ottawa.
It is shocking, but it is not an isolated event. It has happened to many of my esteemed colleagues. Tires slashed in hospital parking lots. Hand-written letters of hate dropped off at offices. Racist slurs. Misogynist attacks. Death threats.
We care about what we do, so we have been stoic, put on our scrubs and our masks and persisted in our work. We certainly continue to immunize our patients. We speak on behalf of pandemic safety measures, even while police cruisers sit in front of our homes to protect our families.
What does this say about our society? What does it say about our political leaders who stoke the flames of divisiveness and gaslight those same health care professionals who they once said were heroes?
Canada’s beleaguered health care providers, advocates for your safety, are being targeted. We haven’t even started to immunize children aged 5 to 11 against COVID-19 and we are so tired, so scared. The thousands of adults who I immunized last spring and summer at my “Jabapalooza” clinics were hoping I’d do similar events for their children. I cannot because it would not be safe for me or my volunteers. The schoolyard bullies have chased us off our street. That is where we are, in this pandemic, after 20 months of saying we are “in this together.” Demoralized isn’t a strong enough word to describe how we feel.
A police sergeant finally phoned me four days after I submitted a request to them for help. The College of Physicians and Surgeons sat on the letter for 12 days before they sent it to me, and they never phoned the police themselves. Even though it contains a death threat and an antisemitic message of hate. Who has our backs?
If we want this pandemic to end, if we want to ensure that we thrive as a country, then to safeguard the health of all Canadians it is up to our leaders and organizations to step forward and say they condemn any – and all – threatening behaviour directed at health care workers.
Take care of us, so that we can take care of you. That isn’t asking too much.
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