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The mob, unmasked

Rob Shaw: When you’re standing next to a mob making comparisons about the Holocaust, any valid criticisms you may have are completely lost – at best.
These have been going on for a while. (Yvonne Hanson /

On the sidewalk outside Victoria General Hospital this week, someone scrawled messages in chalk directed at healthcare workers entering the building.

It says something about where we’re in the pandemic that after reading a sentence like that, you probably thought the messages were vile, hate-filled, conspiracy-laden attacks against vaccines, COVID-19, and those who work at the facility.

But there remains many good people and much good will in our province, as the messages proved.

“We are in awe of your persistence,” read one.

“You shine bright on the dark days”

“Victoria loves you. Thank you for being so brave.”

And finally:

“Seriously. You guys are more awesome than Beyonce.”

Two local moms admitted to being the source of the sidewalk graffiti, and in a different message wrote they did it “to let you know we are so proud of you.”

What a contrast to the rest of the week.

The province was rocked on its heels by protests Wednesday outside the legislature and at hospitals and healthcare locations across the province by large mobs of placard-waving people angry at the prospect of mandatory vaccines required to enter restaurants, movie theatres, gyms, and other non-essential businesses starting Sept. 13.

They hurled obscenities at passers-by. They chanted “lock her up” in reference to Dr. Bonnie Henry. They blocked roads and entrances to emergency rooms, slowing down ambulances. In Nanaimo, someone spat at a healthcare worker entering the hospital.

The backlash was swift. Many people visiting loved ones in hospital, or arriving for life-saving treatments, pushed back against the protesters in person and online. Healthcare workers shared stories of hurt and despair at arriving for work, or looking out the window during a shift, and seeing the mob.

“There are two things that strike me as unacceptable,” said Health Minister Adrian Dix.

“One is the targeting of hospitals and what that meant for health care staff, but also for treatment and those going in…

“The other set of things are hateful comments that do not reflect the 98 per cent of BCers, if not 99 per cent. We have, in this province, 84.6 per cent of people vaccinated today. I would argue the vast majority of those who aren't would not share the views that were being expressed by some speakers at that event.”

Dr. Henry, in her understated way, said it made her “very sad.”

There are some who argue it’s possible to find legitimate points in and around the protests this week. They contend that not everyone was a conspiracy theorist anti-vaxxer, and maybe we should hear out and seriously consider those who were there because of civil liberties, discrimination, and freedom-of-choice.

No thanks.

It doesn’t matter if you have a valid criticism about vaccine passports when you choose to stand beside and cheer on people with “Fuck Trudeau” flags, those who compare B.C.’s public health measures to the genocide perpetrated by the Nazi regime, and those who harass healthcare workers.

Your point, if you even have one, is forfeit by association.

Perhaps instead of complaining that nobody takes you seriously, those folks should examine the social networks that caused them to show up in the first place, or the life choices that led them to stand outside a hospital, blocking people with legitimate medical needs, while chanting for the incarceration of our top public health official.

Meanwhile, there is valid criticism about the vaccine passports, and it’s being expressed in much more valid ways.

Opposition BC Liberal leader Shirley Bond wrote a letter to Premier John Horgan, summarizing worries gathered up by the business community and rural regions of the province.

“We continue to see a lack of clarity around how the vaccine card program will be rolled out,” she wrote.

The BC Liberals want to know if government will provide medical exemptions to the vaccine passports (Dr. Henry has so far refused), clarify vaccine requirements for colleges and universities, offer training, financial support and liability protection for businesses left to enforce the vaccine cards, and better explain to seniors and the less tech-savvy about a paper system for those without smartphones.

Fair questions. Asked without hurling obscenities at nurses or waving signs that cite the “Nuremberg code” set after Nazi medical experiments on Jewish people during World War II.

Dix has said more information is coming next week on the vaccine passport system.

Government could definitely have done a better job having more details ready when it first announced the passport idea. It might want to consider holding off on future announcements until it has more specifics, if only to provide less ammunition to the conspiracy theorists who’ve exploited the last two weeks of confusion for their own gain.

But in the bigger scheme of things, B.C.’s not that far off from what other provinces are already doing, it’s not that far behind their rollout and it’s not out of line with the proof-of-vaccination rules we see being set by countries across the world.

In short, we’re doing the right thing by urging people to get vaccinated and limiting some services for those who don’t - despite the nonsense, and hate, you hear from the mob.

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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