BC is following Quebec’s lead to create a “bubble zone” around hospitals and schools that would prevent anti-vaxers from disrupting children and healthcare workers with protests.
Premier John Horgan said he’s disappointed protesters have targeted BC elementary schools and hospital emergency rooms this month, and his government is crafting a response.
“I think all British Columbians are perplexed that people who have a different point of view, a minority view, would choose to disrupt children in education settings or patients in health care settings to get their point across,” he said Thursday.
“I'm hopeful that we've seen the last of that type of behaviour.”
That’s unlikely, which makes it a good idea to proceed as quickly as possible with the bubble zone proposal.
Schools near Salmon Arm had to go into lock and hold procedures, normally reserved for active shooters or dangerous intruders, last week after anti-vaccine protesters entered three different school buildings. The district there has kept school doors locked since then.
Anti-vax protesters also targeted hospital rooms in early September, blocking access to emergency rooms and ambulances in major BC cities.
“We want to ensure that that doesn't happen again,” said Horgan.
“We are working, the attorney general and the solicitor general, on legislation or perhaps policy changes to existing regulations to protect workers and those that are accessing those services, whether they be kids in our schools or patients in our hospitals.
“It is something that we don't do lightly but we do, in the interests of the vast majority of British Columbians who want to know that they can go about their business free from intolerance from a select few.”
As Horgan was talking, Quebec was introducing its legislation. It provides a template BC should follow as quickly as possible.
Quebec’s law bans protests within 50 metres of schools, daycares, hospitals, health care centres, COVID-19 testing centres, vaccination centres and even mobile clinics. Anyone who breaks the law gets a fine of up to $6,000, which then doubles to up to $12,000 if the person is caught intimidating or threatening a person trying to enter one of those sites.
It’s also illegal to organize or incite a protest at those locations, and the law allows courts to issue pre-emptive injunctions if it is discovered in advance that a protest is planned.
The whole idea makes a lot of sense. There’s no reason whatsoever that protests should occur outside school entrances, or inside their hallways, frightening innocent children to the point of tears. Nor should our hospital emergency rooms be blocked, for any reason, by anyone, ever.
Quebec Premier Francois Legault said his province had “reached its limit” of what it would tolerate.
The issue will no doubt be challenged in court by civil liberties groups who argue that freedoms of expression and protest are enshrined charter rights. This is true. But like all rights, they come with justifiable limits. No one is saying you can’t protest - head to your local government building, or another location. But you can’t, and shouldn’t, do it at the doorway to an elementary school or where cancer patients are entering a hospital for treatment.
It wasn’t clear from Horgan’s comments whether he plans to copy Quebec’s bill exactly, or work on a made-in-BC solution.
Either way, he should move quickly.
The anti-vax brigade was emboldened by the recent federal election and the hate spewed by the People’s Party of Canada. Many got used to the rallies and gatherings that the election incited. They’ll eventually return to target schools and hospitals.
If the change can be made by regulation, then Horgan’s cabinet should sign the order as quickly as possible.
Or, the BC legislature is back in session Oct. 4, giving the Horgan government the easy ability to slide a bill into the house. The Opposition BC Liberals and Greens would likely support it.
In Quebec, the parties agreed to fast-track the passage of the legislation within hours.
"We're not against people demonstrating," said Quebec Liberal party leader Dominique Anglade.
"We're against people intimidating and demonstrating in front of children and in locations that are dangerous for the people that are impacted."
It makes sense, and is entirely justifiable. Horgan is on the right track with the bubble zone legislation. Let's hope his government can get it done before the next anti-vax outburst threatens our most vulnerable.
Rob Shaw has spent more than 13 years covering BC politics, now reporting for CHEK News and writing for The Orca. He is the co-author of the national best-selling book A Matter of Confidence, and a regular guest on CBC Radio.
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