‘Refrain from wearing scrubs’: Vancouver healthcare workers warned ahead of convoy protest

Vancouver healthcare workers are being told to change out of their scrubs and hide their ID if they need to go outside Saturday, when a planned protest against COVID-19 vaccine mandates and restrictions is set to pass three hospitals.

Vancouver healthcare workers are being told to change out of their scrubs and hide their ID if they need to go outside Saturday, when a planned protest against COVID-19 vaccine mandates and restrictions is set to pass three hospitals.

Saturday’s protest will begin in Langley and end in downtown Vancouver. The route passes Mount Saint Joseph on Kingsway, Vancouver General on Broadway, and St. Paul’s on Burrard Street.

CityNews has obtained memos to staff from Vancouver Coastal Health (VCH) and Providence Healthcare (PHC) advising them that both private security and the Vancouver Police Department will be monitoring the situation.

“As a precaution, we recommend that staff stay inside while the convoy is passing and to not engage with any protestors,” says the memo from PCH.

“For your safety, we are recommending the following: please stay inside during the convoy; if you do encounter any protestors, please do not engage or respond to their questions; please do not ask protestors to put on a face mask; refrain from wearing scrubs and/or your ID badge outside of the hospital during the demonstration,” says the memo from VCH.”

Vancouver Mayor Kennedy Stewart also issued a statement noting the route passes three hospitals.

“While every Canadian has the right to peaceful and respectful protest, nobody has the right to promote hate, jeopardize the safety of our communities, or interfered with access for patients, staff, or first responders,” he wrote.

“Hate has no place in our city. We have to all stand together against hate in all its forms, including when it targets frontline and healthcare workers.”

The emails from the health authorities acknowledge the right to peacefully protest, while also reminding staff of recently-passed “bubble zone ” legislation which establishes a 20 metre perimeter around schools, health-care facilities, and COVID-19 testing and vaccination sites.

That legislation came after protests against COVID-19 restrictions targeted both hospitals and schools in several cities.

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Public Safety Minister Mike Farnworth said the decision on how and whether to enforce the bubble zone legislation is the jurisdiction of individual police departments.

“Recently we’ve seen situations like this where people were prevented from accessing schools and health care facilities and workers were harassed by those protesting COVID-19-related health orders. People in British Columbia should feel confident that they will have access to important services when they need them, without harassment or interference,” he wrote in an email.

“The Act allows police to issue tickets and arrest individuals who are within an access zone, impeding access to or egress from a facility, disrupting the provision of services, or intimidating or attempting to intimidate an individual. It will also allow courts to issue an injunction to stop people from contravening the Act. Decisions on the enforcement tools that will be used are made by the responding agency/officer in light of specific circumstances. For example, sometimes compliance may be obtained without the need to issue tickets.”

The memo from VCH also says it may take patients longer to get to their appointments, and suggests warning them to allow for extra time. In September, when protesters targeted Vancouver General Hospital, patients described having to walk through an angry crowd in order to get to appointments for cancer treatment.

The message from VCH mentions the toll these protests can take on workers in a system that is short-staffed and has been working on the frontlines of the pandemic for two years.

“We understand that this is beyond disheartening in the face of all that you have been through and the extraordinary work each of you has been doing,” the email reads.

“We feel it too and we want to again express our immense gratitude for your ongoing commitment and dedication to providing the best care to our patients during this very challenging time.”

Farnworth has also issued a statement about the planned protests planned for B.C., including one outside of the legislature in Victoris.

“Our government believes in a welcoming and inclusive society and recognizes the public’s right to engage in peaceful protest and lawful assembly. While the police will respect lawful protests, they will also consider all the tools and options available to them to protect people, preserve public safety and investigate unlawful conduct,” he wrote.

“British Columbians have been navigating the ongoing challenges of the pandemic together, and it is unfair to have one group disrupt the lives of so many others as we are seeing in Ottawa and other cities throughout Canada.”

The Vancouver memos echo warnings to healthcare staff in Toronto ahead of a planned convoy to Queen’s Park, located at the end of that city’s “Hospital Row.” Roads have already been closed down, and barricades set up in an effort to prevent vehicles from impeding access to healthcare facilities.

This weekend’s planned protests are going ahead as Ottawa’s downtown remains paralyzed by protesters. Last weekend thousands descended on Parliament Hill.

Crowds have since thinned but some members of the so-called ‘freedom convoy’ remain. What was originally described as a demonstration against vaccine mandates for cross-border truckers has turned into what police and politicians are describing as an “occupation.”

The presence of far-right extremist groups, display of swastikas, comparisons of COVID-19 measures to the Holocaust, desecration of monuments, and racist impersonations of Indigenous ceremony have drawn widespread condemnation. Residents, non-profits, and business owners have spoken out about how unsafe they feel.

Ottawa officials have painted a grim picture of the fallout from the protests, saying policing alone has cost the city millions, and the ongoing presence of the convoy has turned parts of the city into a “living hell” for frightened and fed-up residents.

In Alberta, vehicles remain on the highway leading to the Canada-U.S border crossing in Coutts where they have been since last weekend. Cross-border traffic was completely blocked for days, and the RCMP said they are still “managing two illegal protests” in the area, advising people to stay away from the area .

With files from CityNews Toronto and CityNews Calgary

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