NDP, Liberals to propose legislation to create safety zones around hospitals, schools

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TORONTO — Both the Ontario NDP and the Liberals introduced proposed legislation Tuesday to create safety zones around institutions such as hospitals and schools to protect them from anti-vaccine harassment.

NDP Leader Andrea Horwath said people such as hospital workers and cancer patients shouldn't have to face organized anti-public health harassment.

"Health-care workers shouldn't be worried about walking a gauntlet of hate and vitriol on their way into work while they're literally going in to provide services to our loved ones who are not well, as well as people who are still battling with COVID-19," she said.

Horwath first raised the idea in August, in response to what she called organized campaigns to target small businesses implementing public health measures.

"It’s a bill that everybody knows I’ve been looking to table for some time now," she said, after introducing her bill seconds after the Liberals'.

"I'm happy to see that the Liberals decided to jump on the bandwagon."

Solicitor General Sylvia Jones said she will look at the bills, but noted that the behaviours addressed in what the Liberals and NDP propose are already against the law.

"Look, none of us are pleased when we see health-care workers who are literally looking after COVID-19 patients in hospitals, in ICU, being threatened or being yelled at for doing their job exceptionally well," she said.

"It is frustrating. But as I said, and as the (health) minister has repeated in the house, threatening behavior and intimidation are a criminal offence."

Health Minister Christine Elliott said during question period that the government has been in communication with law enforcement officers about their concerns with such protests.

Jones noted that Ontario has seen limited protests, and workers have not been blocked from entering those spaces "to any large degree."

Liberal Leader Steven Del Duca said even if the government says right now it doesn't support the creation of safety zones, it's important to keep pushing because Premier Doug Ford has reversed his position on many other measures throughout the pandemic.

"Yes, there are laws (already) on the books that are important," he said.

"But we are taking the extra step of declaring, under these very unique circumstances, that this kind of uncivil behavior, this behavior that, again, is blocking people from doing their work or blocking people from getting treatments that they so desperately need, is not good."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 5, 2021.

Allison Jones, The Canadian Press

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