NDP calling on province to create protection zones from anti-vax protesters

MANITOULIN – The Ontario New Democrats are calling on the provincial government to pass safety zone legislation to protect people from any type of harassment when they are at vaccination centres to prevent incidents like one involving Northeastern Manitoulin and the Islands Mayor Al MacNevin, who had been followed up to his upstairs office in Little Current by a protestor, and another incident in North Bay in which a woman and her seven-year-old son were met with protestors sporting megaphones who verbally harassed the two as they entered and exited the parking lot at a vaccine centre. They screamed obscenities at Abby Blaszczyk, saying she was murdering her child and was committing genocide.  

“I put the question to the government to pass legislation to make schools, hospitals, churches, anywhere vaccine clinics are being held, as safety zones for vaccination centres, so people are not harassed for getting a vaccination shot for COVID,” stated Michael Mantha, MPP for Algoma-Manitoulin, last week. 

“What anti-vaxxers did yesterday in North Bay is despicable,” MPP Mantha told the government. “It’s completely unacceptable that any family would be terrorized like Abby’s was. We should be making it easier for parents to take their kids to get vaccinated against COVID-19, not leaving them vulnerable to walking a gauntlet of hate on their way into their appointment.”

MPP Mantha told The Expositor, “this type of thing is happening in every province of our country. In this particular case in North Bay, this lady was accused of being a murderer and committing genocide when she tried to take her young children to get vaccinated. How much trauma will this youngster and his sibling (who was in a car with his grandmother) feel?” 

“We can all agree to disagree when it comes to whether one gets a vaccination or not,” said MPP Mantha. “Nobody needs to be harassed about their choice, whichever it is. But those that don’t get their vaccinations or believe in them shouldn’t be harassing and abusing people who are getting their vaccines. Absolutely no one should be put into those type of stressful situations.” 

MPP Mantha told The Expositor, “Ontario is looking provincially with well over 80 percent of people having been vaccinated. The majority of people are getting their vaccines.” 

“Those people who choose not to get vaccinations are firm in their position and don’t believe in the virus, and that it (COVID-19) is a hoax,” said MPP Mantha. “The COVID-19 vaccinations are a global pharmaceutical initiative,” many of them believe.

“I respect everyone’s views and choices,” said MPP Mantha. “I rely on those people that have helped me and guided me through good health—health units, doctors, and medical experts. I can’t believe they would send me on a path that would be harmful for myself or my family.”

MPP Mantha said when he brought this forward to the government, “they agreed no one should be harassed, but they didn’t say they would implement our bill.” 

In August, NDP Opposition Leader Andrea Horwath brought forward a private member’s bill to create safety zones, according to an NDP media release. 

“The bill would establish safety zones in places like hospitals, schools and vaccine clinics and protect Ontarians by making it a provincial offence, punishable by a fine of up to $25,000, to subject people like health-care heroes and patients, kids and parents to anti-public health harassment in these areas.”

The Expositor contacted the Manitoulin detachment of the Ontario Provincial Police (OPP) on the OPP policy on protestors and at what point does the police step in when people are verbally abused and harassed. 

OPP Provincial Constable Tessa Kasch told The Expositor, “the OPP recognizes the Charter of the rights of everyone to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly. The overall OPP objective is to work with all parties to ensure public and officer safety and to maintain orderly conduct and peace. If protestors are not conducting themselves peacefully and criminal behavior ensues, then police will take appropriate action.”

“The OPP make it a point to conduct focus patrols in locations of possible concern,” said Constable Kasch. “Additionally, if police are not at a certain location at a given time and an emergency arises, 911 can be utilized and officers will attend with priority.”

Tracy Weatherbe, manager, health services division of Public Health Sudbury and Districts, told The Expositor, “Speaking in general, we have certainly seen individuals present at our clinics. We really want to ensure everyone who attends has the opportunity and feels welcome at the clinics. If any issues come forward or someone is feeling intimidated and not comfortable due to protestors, we communicate with the police and security. Staff and volunteers are all well trained in how to deal with this type of situation.”

“We have regular communication with police services in communities where the vaccine rollouts are taking place,” said Ms. Weatherbe. “This is all part of our planning and preparation for clinics.”

“We want everyone to feel comfortable and welcoming at our vaccination clinics.”