Barry’s Bay – The main intersection in the village square was lined with peaceful protesters on Saturday afternoon, all joined in their common opposition to the mandatory COVID-19 vaccine mandate brought in for healthcare workers at St. Francis Memorial Hospital and Valley Manor Long-Term Care Home.
Most of the 60 plus protesters gathered were there supporting health care workers but Agnes Sibiga was very upfront about the fact she is a locally employed nurse and expects to lose her job because she will not be vaccinated.
“In any medical treatment you have to give informed consent,” she said. “I’m refusing for religious reasons. All the vaccines available now are created with aborted fetal cell lines.”
She applied for an exception and for protection under the Ontario Human Rights Code, but her request was denied by the hospital.
“I am going to be appealing it,” she said.
As she stood on the street in her community and heard the cars honking their horns in support, she said she felt very supported.
“I feel relieved to see this,” she said, adding there is secrecy among healthcare workers about vaccination status.
“We don’t know everyone affected (by the vaccine mandate),” she added. “People are afraid to say. It is a small community and people are afraid to reveal their opposition.”
When she initially did not get a vaccine, it was accepted, but that has changed in recent months and this bothers her deeply. She noted with the flu vaccine other options were always available.
As well, this has not been mandated by the province, she stressed.
“Directive 6 was a mandatory policy, not a mandatory vaccine,” she said.
Ms. Sibiga is hoping the hospital will accommodate her.
“Accommodation is something we do,” she said. “We accommodate our patients, but we will not accommodate healthy and willing workers?”
She said she would be open to a new vaccine which is being developed in Montreal which would be plant driven. As well, she is willing to continue to do frequent testing.
“I have been working 20 months during this pandemic,” she said.
If she loses her job, she is also concerned about the impact on her fellow nurses and other staff at the hospital.
“If they are letting nurses go, the hospital will lose valuable workers and the nurses that are staying will be forced to work extra shifts,” she said. “Nurses are already tired. I don’t know what this will do.”
Ms. Sibiga was thankful for the support from her community and is hoping there will be a change in policy to allow for testing for any unvaccinated staff, but she is not very confident this will occur.
“Hallowe’en will be my last shift as a nurse and I feel very sad about this,” she said.
For many of the protestors, it was as much about choice as religious freedom. Stephen Platt, a retired high school teacher, said health care workers need to be recognized for their hard work and not punished for refusing to take a vaccine.
“This is to me an injustice that somebody is asked to go against their conscience,” he said.
His wife’s parents came from Slovenia, a country where Communist rule led to oppression and fear, and he is concerned the same structures are being created in Canada.
“In Slovenia in 1992 her aunt would close the curtains and turn off all the lights and whispered when they talked because they were so afraid,” he recalled. “It was people against people and that is happening again here. You were fired at the whim of the government.”
Mr. Platt said he felt it was important to stand with the local health care providers.
“It is a great sadness all of the sudden a jab that is not a real vaccine can cause someone to lose their job,” he said.
Brian McCarthy was carrying a large hand-made placard which noted hospital workers were going from “hero to zero” with this policy.
“I might need to go to the hospital and this is to keep these people employed,” he said. “They are our heroes. It is about freedom of choice.”
Mr. McCarthy said he is not anti-vaccine but does support people having a choice.
Norm Edwards of Golden Lake said he is opposed to the vaccine being mandatory.
“I’m against mandatory anything,” he said. “It is our building block of our democracy to have choice.”
Hospital workers should not lose their jobs because they want to have a choice on taking a vaccine, he said.
“This is 2021,” he said. “I can understand 100 years ago with mandatory things, but now they know better. We’ve seen the failures they have made through time.”
Pleased With Response
Organizer Gudrun Wegner, who readily admitted she had never organized anything like this before, noted she was very pleased with the response on Saturday when people began gathering about 1 p.m.
“I had made 60 signs and now we are down to paper,” she said. “It has been great to see so many people come out.”
As she stood by the main intersection of the village, she remained vigilant to make sure no one was blocking the sidewalk or road. She was also glad the protestors were all peaceful and there were no radical elements causing a disturbance.
“We let the OPP know we were doing this and they told us if there were any problems we could call them,” she said.
Most people were supportive it seemed as vehicles honked as they drove by. One person was heard yelling the protestors were wasting their time, but Ms. Wegner said things had gone quite smoothly.
Not a healthcare worker herself, she wanted to protest so others would have a choice.
“This is so people can make their own decisions on their own accord,” Ms. Wegner said. “We want to keep this about choice.”
At the same time, she noted the vaccine is experimental and she had documentation to back this up which was available for people at the protest.
“It will stay experimental until the FDA says so in 2023,” she said.
Forcing people to take an experimental vaccine is wrong, she added.
Ms. Wegner said while many of the hospital and long-term care home staff were thankful for the protest, some were afraid to attend it.
“They are being let go without pay,” she said, adding termination is also a possibility.
Ms. Wegner said the protest was not an anti-vax protest but rather about freedom of choice.
“People can take the vaccine if they want, but they should not be afraid to lose their jobs if they don’t,” she said.
Debbi Christinck, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Eganville Leader