'It's despicable': Reaction pours in after protesters target B.C. hospitals over 'health freedom'

The condemnation has been swift, blunt and widespread after the so-called "health freedom" rallies across B.C. on Wednesday. Jordan Armstrong reports.

The large demonstration for “health freedom” at Vancouver General Hospital and City Hall on Wednesday was “distressing” and “beyond the pale” for health workers, the head of Doctors of BC says.

Police estimated about 5,000 protesters at the event’s peak, with the crowd voicing opposition to COVID-19 protocols and vaccine mandates and causing traffic disruptions, including forcing ambulances to slow down. Similar protests occurred at hospitals around the province and across the country.

Doctors of BC president Dr. Matthew Chow told Global News Thursday morning it was a very difficult day for health-care staff.

“There is distress — a feeling that this was just beyond the pale in terms of the nature of the protests and where they happened,” he said.

Workers inside the hospitals said they could hear crowds chanting “lock her up” in reference to provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry.

“It makes me very sad that people would do that to others, watching the ambulance try to get through made me very upset and sad. Taking it out on me is something I have been living with as some of you know for some time,” Henry said, when asked about the incident Thursday.

“What upsets me is the amount of anger and vitriol that has been directed at others in public health and my team and my staff, and that’s inexcusable and very upsetting.”

Chow said he is stunned this would happen in Canada.

“People were spat at, cursed at, yelled at, women had misogynist comments directed at them, people were being yelled at through megaphones,” he said. “It just compounded the sense of fatigue and burnout people have been having.”

He added it was unfortunately just an example of what health workers have been dealing with since the beginning of the pandemic.

“Our health-care workers have been heroes throughout the pandemic,” Health Minister Adrian Dix said Thursday morning.

“They’ve been extraordinary throughout the pandemic, including right now, treating people, the majority of whom are unvaccinated from COVID-19 right now.

“To engage in these types of activities outside of hospitals is not acceptable. It’s despicable.”

Dix said people have the right to express their views, but to do this outside hospitals is irresponsible to patients and staff.

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On the same day of the protests, B.C.’s fourth wave of the pandemic showed no signs of slowing down, as the province announced another 785 new cases and two deaths.

It brought the seven-day average for new cases to 697, the highest it has been in nearly four months.

Health officials said 199 people were hospitalized with the virus, up 12 overnight and nearly double the 107 people in hospital two weeks ago. Of them, 112 people were in critical or intensive care.

From Aug. 24 to 30, people who were not fully vaccinated accounted for 80 per cent of COVID-19 cases, the province said. From Aug. 17 to 30, they accounted for 83.4 per cent of hospitalizations.

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Some people in the crowds told Global News they are health workers themselves, and are quitting or considering quitting their jobs over the vaccine mandates and public health orders.

“To describe that as a rally of health-care workers — I know some people attempted to do that — is not correct and is not accurate,” Dix said.

“I don’t see that as a health-care protest at all. There may have been health-care workers there, but I know where health-care workers stand on these questions. They stand for health care and public health and they stand for making sure everyone gets vaccinated.”

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Police said no one was arrested at the rally outside Vancouver General Hospital.

In Kelowna, Mayor Colin Basran denounced the hundreds of people who gathered in front of Kelowna General Hospital, carrying Canadian flags, shouting and waving signs that read everything from “My body my choice” to “I am informed and I don’t consent.”

“The thing I really want to stress is: What was accomplished by this protest? Health-care workers didn’t make these restrictions. Kelowna city council doesn’t make these restrictions,” he said.

“So they’re completely misguided in terms of who they’re protesting or who’re trying to send a message to. And, at the end of the day, these health-care workers are the people who these protesters are going to turn to when they get sick.

“So I just don’t understand it and I think it speaks to the level of intellect of the people involved in these protests who don’t understand who’s making the decisions. It just baffles me that they feel like they need to take their frustrations out on our health-care workers.”

– with files from Doyle Potenteau

© 2021 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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