KELOWNA (NEWS 1130) — He knew he’d be outnumbered, he wasn’t surprised when he was spat on, shoved and shouted at, but one man in Kelowna says he just couldn’t sit idly by while a thousand people protested COVID-19 vaccines and restrictions outside the hospital.
So he made a sign, masked up, and braved the crowd.
When Ben Van Exan heard about protests planned at healthcare facilities across B.C. Wednesday, he was furious.
“The hospital is full of doctors and nurses whose responsibility is to take care of the general public. For thousands of people to gather and protest in front of hospitals is insane. It’s just absolutely crazy and mind-blowing,” he tells NEWS 1130.
“I thought that it would be good to go down and represent the respect that I have for healthcare workers, and the respect that we all should have for people who are actually scientific-minded and understand what they’re talking about.
“I was just going to stand there with my sign, and request that people get vaccinated. I didn’t really have a goal in mind, other than just to represent people who do respect healthcare workers, who do respect the orders from Dr. Bonnie Henry and the orders from the province — the orders that are in place to protect society.”
Protests in Vancouver, Abbotsford, Kamloops, and Victoria also drew large crowds and widespread condemnation.
RELATED: ‘They should be ashamed of themselves’: Protesters target B.C. hospitals disrupting patients, staff
The Vancouver man is in Kelowna helping family, and says he’s attended a lot of protests in the past where there have been confrontations between opposing groups.
But this was different.
“I knew that I would be harassed which I was. I was spit at. I was coughed at immediately. Within five minutes of being there, people were right up in my face coughing right into my face,” he says.
“I did fear a little bit, especially when people are screaming at me and coughing in my face. I was touched or pushed by several people. I said, ‘Please. You’re not allowed to touch me,’ I had to say that about a dozen times. People were very forceful.”
Van Exan says he has zero patience for the protesters, and that there are not “two sides” when it comes to the issue of vaccines.
“There’s just a whole bunch of people who are ill-informed and wrong, and then there’s science,” he says.
“Unfortunately, the 1,000 People today at the hospital are just wrong. They’re just completely misinformed and misguided.” and they’re afraid.
RELATED: Unvaccinated COVID-19 patients straining B.C. hospitals, particularly in Interior
Dr. Barinder Narang, co-founder of the This is Our Shot campaign, agrees. He points to the modelling released by the province Tuesday as evidence of the efficacy and urgency of immunization. In the past month, fully vaccinated individuals accounted for 15 per cent of cases and 13 per cent of hospitalizations.
“The power of vaccines is there. I think the debate was very different six months ago when we didn’t have the safety data that we do, and we didn’t have the effectiveness data that we do now,” Narang says.
“It’s important to remember that the way to protect yourself, the way to protect your family, the way to be healthy enough to civilly protest is to get vaccinated. I just hope that there aren’t any negative health outcomes for anyone involved today from the protester side or on the patient side.”
RELATED: Return to normal hinges on vaccination rates: new COVID B.C. modelling
Van Exan says targeting hospitals where frontline workers are caring for unvaccinated COVID-19 patients is particularly egregious.
“It’s the saddest thing, that they have to endure incoming patients and COVID wards that are full of unvaccinated people,” he says.
“They’re the actual heroes in all of this, it’s heartbreaking for them, because this is so preventable. If everybody was just vaccinated, there would be nobody in the hospital, and life could mostly go back to normal and unfortunately, that’s not the case and they get the brunt of that.”
‘I would do it again, for sure’
There were a few others in Kelowna counter-protesting like Van Exan was, and while he thinks it’s important to show up and oppose these demonstrations — he does understand why people might stay away.
“I think that most people who would have joined a counter-protest were probably too afraid to get into the whole mob of angry protesters, and I don’t blame them. It was, it’s not a fun place to be. I certainly didn’t enjoy being there, these people are very angry and very afraid and very misinformed and unpredictable,” he says, adding he has no regrets.
“I wish that more people would come and stand up for what is right and for science and for the collective good. I would do it again, for sure. ”
With files from Marcella Bernardo