A crowd resisting vaccination for Covid-19 this week clogged the streets outside a Vancouver hospital, harassing and in one case attacking health workers, delaying ambulances, delaying patients entering for treatment and disturbing those recovering inside.
Kennedy Stewart, the city’s mayor, was one of several people who were quick to condemn its members.
“When I see people blocking health workers who are working hard to save people dying from Covid, I get sick.” he wrote on Twitter.
While polls show that anti-vaccine Canadians are a decidedly minority, the protest in Vancouver was not an isolated event. In British Columbia, protesters were in Kamloops, Victoria, Kelowna, Prince George and Nanaimo. A hospital area in downtown Toronto saw a similar raging protest, and an anti-vaccination group made its way through downtown Montreal.
All of this, of course, followed the angry and often profane protests that followed Prime Minister Justin Trudeau during the federal election campaign, causing an event to be canceled for security reasons. It’s not just Mr. Trudeau or liberals who have been targeted. Anti-vaccine protesters showed up twice at the home of Stephen Lecce, the education minister in Ontario’s Progressive Conservative government. When protesters learned that Mr Lecce was not at home, they harassed his neighbors.
Coincidentally or not, within a week, a public anti-vaccination frenzy arose that led to developments in some provinces requiring a vaccination certificate for entry into some public places. Quebec’s vaccine verification system, including a phone app, went into effect on Wednesday. And in Ontario, Prime Minister Doug Ford renounced his long-held opposition to vaccine passports and announced a program that will be fully implemented by the end of October.
Mr. Ford’s announcement means Ontario is now joining British Columbia and Manitoba in addition to Quebec in requiring proof of vaccination for some activities. (Saskatchewan is working on developing a vaccination passport, but has not mandated vaccinations for any activity or job.)
There are major differences between the provinces. For example, the list of places in Quebec where vaccination is required will be longer and stricter than Ontario’s when it launches later this month. Dining at a restaurant in Quebec requires vaccination, both indoors and on an outdoor patio. Ontario’s measure will only apply indoors, raising questions about how patio guests will use restrooms or, in many locations, even enter the outdoor dining areas.
Reactions from companies have been mixed. The Canadian Chamber of Commerce last month called for clear mandatory government vaccination rules and vaccine passports. But some individual business owners, especially those with restaurants, have expressed concerns about vetting their customers and enforcing the rules.
No province has a general mandatory vaccination policy. But vaccine passports and vaccination mandates by employers or governments have raised concerns about privacy and human rights.
I asked Errol Mendes, a law professor at the University of Ottawa, a human rights specialist, whether mandatory vaccinations are likely to be reversed by a court.
He said someone fired for refusing to vaccinate under a vaccine mandate set by an employer could bring a case under provincial human rights codes. Likewise, unions could argue that layoffs violate their collective agreements. In the case of government-imposed vaccines, the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms would come into play.
“But there is no certainty that any of these legal challenges would necessarily be successful,” said Professor Mendes.
It’s much more likely, he said, that such a case would follow the pattern established by the Newfoundland Supreme Court when a county travel ban was challenged. It ruled that the ban did indeed violate part of the charter, but was nevertheless legal because it was a reasonable restriction in the context of the pandemic.
Before calling the election, Mr. Trudeau said the government would demand vaccines for its officials, employees in federally regulated industries and passengers on trains, planes and cruise ships. Jagmeet Singh, the leader of the New Democratic Party, made a similar proposal, even setting a deadline on Monday. Erin O’Toole, the conservative leader, is not in favor of mandatory vaccinations.
As was the case in British Columbia and Quebec, Ontario’s announcement of vaccination evidence was immediately followed by an increase in vaccination bookings.
As for the anti-vaccine protesters, there is no immediate sign that they will follow the advice of the mayor of Vancouver and stay at home. But they are probably not who they claim to be. The Ontario Hospital Association said that, contrary to claims made by the Toronto protesters, it believes “the majority of those taking part in these demonstrations were not health professionals.”
Understanding Vaccine and Mask Mandates in the US
- Vaccine Rules. On August 23, the Food and Drug Administration gave full approval to Pfizer-BioNTech’s coronavirus vaccine for people 16 and older, paving the way for an increase in mandates in both the public and private sectors. Private companies are increasingly mandating vaccines for employees. Such mandates are permitted by law and have been confirmed in court proceedings.
- Mask Rules. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommended in July that all Americans, regardless of vaccination status, wear masks in indoor public places in areas with outbreaks, a reversal of the guidance it offered in May. Find out where CDC guidelines apply and where states have their own masking policies. The battle over masks has become controversial in some states, with some local leaders defying state bans.
- College and universities. More than 400 colleges and universities are demanding that students be vaccinated against Covid-19. Nearly all of them are in states that voted for President Biden.
- schools. Both California and New York City have introduced vaccine mandates for educators. A survey published in August found that many U.S. parents of school-aged children are opposed to mandatory vaccines for students, but were more in favor of mask mandates for students, teachers and staff who have not received their injections.
- Hospitals and Medical Centers. Many hospitals and major health systems require workers to receive a Covid-19 vaccine, citing the increasing caseload fueled by the Delta variant and persistently low vaccination coverage in their communities, even within their workforce.
- New York City. Evidence of vaccination is required from employees and customers for indoor meals, gyms, performances and other indoor situations, although enforcement will not begin until September 13. Teachers and other education workers in the city’s vast school system must have at least one vaccine dose by Sept. 27, without the option of weekly testing. City hospital employees should also receive a vaccine or be tested weekly. Similar rules apply to employees in New York State.
- At the federal level. The Pentagon announced it would aim to make coronavirus vaccinations mandatory for the country’s 1.3 million active-duty troops “by mid-September.” President Biden announced that all civilian federal employees would be required to be vaccinated against the coronavirus or undergo regular testing, social distancing, mask requirements and restrictions on most travel.
It also made it clear that their protests are not welcome.
“By denying the effectiveness of Covid-19 vaccines, they have also inflicted moral damage on healthcare workers who work tirelessly on the front lines caring for patients who are sick and dying from this dangerous virus,” the group said. “It’s a bitter irony that if any of these anti-vaccine protesters get sick or seriously ill from Covid, it’s hospitals and frontline workers they turn to for care.”
Born in Windsor, Ontario, Ian Austen was educated in Toronto, lives in Ottawa and has reported on Canada for NewsMadura for the past 16 years. Follow him on Twitter at @ianrausten.
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