On Wednesday (Sept. 1), thousands of anti-vaccine passport protesters took to the streets across B.C. to voice their opposition to the upcoming vaccine card.
Dubbed the ‘World Wide Walk Out’, protests popped up in multiple B.C. communities like Williams Lake, Nanaimo, Nelson and Kelowna among others. Protesters organized in front of hospitals and outside of government buildings like the B.C. Legislature in Victoria and Vancouver City Hall.
Health care workers have taken to social media to share their experiences. Posts detail how the protests brought health care workers to tears, distressed patients and family members visiting loved ones, prevented patients from accessing cancer treatment and blocked ambulances from accessing emergency rooms.
Dr. Matthew Chow, president of Doctors of B.C. — an association that represents 14,000 physicians, residents and medical students in British Columbia — said the protests were a ‘gut punch’ for health care workers.
“Yesterday was one of the low points — if not the low point — for a lot of us working in this sector just seeing so much hatred and vitriol directed our way. It’s been tough, but we’re professionals and we care about our patients, we care about what’s right. We move on. But I’d be lying if I said we didn’t feel anything from yesterday.”
Chow said many people have reached out with messages of support, which has given some hope to health care workers. He’s also hopeful to see rising vaccination rates among British Columbians, which will be key in getting B.C. out of the pandemic.
“A lot of folks were out there saying they were protesting about freedom, that they felt their freedom was being infringed upon, but I’d like folks to look at it a different way: vaccination is the path to freedom. By getting more people vaccinated, that’s how we put COVID-19 behind us.”
Meena Brisard of the BC Hospital Employees Union echoed Chow’s comments. In a statement, Brisard said the protests were ‘the last thing’ health care workers needed, especially after 18 months of caring for British Columbians hospitalized with COVID-19.
“Health care workers, and those seeking care, need to be supported through this pandemic – not targeted,” she said.
Condemnation of the protests from B.C. leaders was swift.
“When I see folks blocking healthcare workers who are working flat out to save people dying of COVID, it makes me sick,” Vancouver Mayor Kennedy Stewart said in a tweet. “Go the hell home.”
It's saving lives.
So when I see folks blocking healthcare workers who are working flat out to save people dying of COVID, it makes me sick.
— Kennedy Stewart (@kennedystewart) September 1, 2021
Premier John Horgan released a statement Wednesday afternoon saying that while all British Columbians have a right to protest, targeting and harassing health care workers is “completely unacceptable.” The B.C. Legislature will light up in pink on Thursday evening as a gesture of gratitude for health care workers.
While the protests were emotionally charged and protesters loudly discharged hate-filled rhetoric at health care workers, the B.C. RCMP said their members did not witness any violence and did not receive any reports of violence.
There was one instance at the Nanaimo protest where someone spat in the direction of a health care worker, but the spit did not strike her. In a statement, Island Health said at least one health care worker was physically assaulted during the protests and many were verbally abused.
B.C. RCMP media relations officer Sgt. Chris Manseau said the RCMP does not have any specific plans to address future protests. He noted that everyone has the right to peaceful protest, but RCMP officers will react if protesters block roadways or threaten the security of lives and property.
The protests came amid a backdrop of rising COVID-19 infections. As of Wednesday afternoon, B.C. added 785 new COVID-19 infections bringing the total of active cases to 5,866. From Aug. 24-30, people not fully vaccinated accounted for 80 per cent of cases and from Aug. 17-30 they accounted for 83.4 per cent of hospitalizations.
Meanwhile, vaccination rates are increasing — 84.5 per cent of eligible British Columbians have received at least one dose of vaccine and 76.7 per cent are fully vaccinated.
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