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Health workers must be protected from the anti-vax mobs – Toronto Star

Thousands protest the Ford government's vaccine passport in Toronto.

By Star Editorial Board

Thu., Sept. 2, 20213 min. read

“They should stay the hell home and stop doing this.”

Not the most diplomatic remark, but Vancouver Mayor Kennedy Stewart pretty much got it right this week when a mob of anti-vax activists besieged Vancouver General Hospital, harassing health-care workers and slowing ambulance service.

It’s one thing to follow a political leader around and shout abuse at him whenever he makes a public appearance. That’s what anti-vax extremists did to Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau over the past week, even forcing him to cancel a campaign event.

It was, as many have remarked, a particularly ugly and upsetting turn in this election campaign. It revealed a deep anger, fuelled by outlandish conspiracy theories, directed at Trudeau in particular and anyone else seen to be pushing COVID-19 vaccines.

Their behaviour has indeed been, to borrow a phrase, deplorable. The rhetoric is so far over the top that it comes with an undercurrent of potential violence — though thankfully things haven’t yet gone that far on the campaign trail.

But at least that anger is directed at a political leader, and you have to have an awfully short memory to be shocked when a politician is targeted by enraged opponents.

Going after hospitals and health-care workers, though, takes things to an entirely different and more dangerous level. This past week it happened mostly in British Columbia, because that province is bringing in a vaccine certificate system that will deny unvaccinated people access to some public spaces. In Nanaimo, health workers were verbally harassed and in at least one case physically assaulted.

This kind of abusive behaviour may well spread. Hospitals in Winnipeg and Toronto have already been targeted, and now that Ontario has finally agreed to introduce a vaccine certificate it’ll be no surprise if the anti-vax crowd takes its protests to other health care centres.

This has got to stop. Everyone has the right to protest peacefully — even if they’re flat wrong. That’s not in question.

But they should focus their anger where the political decisions are made. In Toronto, that’s at Queen’s Park, not at the hospitals where overstretched doctors and nurses have been working flat-out for a year and a half to save lives during this pandemic. Targeting them is just plain shameful.

Nor should politicians be besieged at home, as has happened to Ontario’s education minister, Stephen Lecce. Anti-vaxxers have organized protests at his house and discussed hiring private investigators to “dig up dirt” on him.

That’s completely unacceptable, as are protests that target businesses like restaurants trying to keep their employees and customers safe by requiring full vaccination. Ontario’s NDP proposes legislation to create public health “safety zones” to protect businesses, and the idea has merit.

Of course, this being an election campaign political partisans are eager to turn all this to their advantage.

The Liberals, certainly, can’t be unhappy that their leader has been targeted by anti-vaxxers. It’s allowed him to both scold them, thereby channelling the legitimate anger of the vaccinated majority, and take the high road by promising to “meet that anger with compassion.” Both approaches, contradictory as they are, work for him.

At a cruder level, the Liberals have done their best to pin the anti-vax mobs on the Conservatives and leader Erin O’Toole. That’s likely to fall pretty flat. After all, O’Toole and all party leaders have condemned the protests and the Lecce example shows that extreme anti-vaxxers are prepared to go after a Conservative they see as offside with their cause, as well as those to the left.

But political point-scoring shouldn’t be the focus here. Shielding health-care workers, business people and others from the fury of the anti-vax crowd is a more pressing task. Those who are doing the right thing shouldn’t be left defenceless against this kind of intimidation.