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Anti-vaccine protests rage outside Toronto General Hospital despite pleas from healthcare workers

Last Updated Sep 13, 2021 at 9:41 pm EDT

On Monday, Toronto frontline workers and first responders protested against a vaccine mandate, holding a silent rally outside Queen’s Park as a crowd of protesters gathered outside Toronto General Hospital to denounce COVID-19 measures.

Demonstrators linked arms for the last few minutes of their event. They joined a chorus of separate anti-vaccination demonstrations provincewide. Though considered a “silent protest,” some frontline workers could be heard chanting “freedom.”

Other city-based rallies were held outside Toronto General Hospital, where one staff member staked a spot on the front lawn to counter-protest, saying such an event should never happen at a hospital.

“These protests should not be happening here,” ER Doctor Raghu Venugopal told 680 NEWS. “All of the people that work behind me in this hospital do not pass laws. Laws are passed at Queen’s Park. Not at this hospital.”

“Healthcare workers should be allowed to do their work without disturbance, treated with dignity, and treated with respect. That is how we treat the population of this city. We treat all of our patients, regardless of vaccine status, with dignity, compassion and respect, and we ask the same of those around us,” he added.

One sign read “invest in healthcare, not fear and division” and “no division means no vax pass.” Another protestor held a sign that said forcing children to wear masks is child abuse.

One person, a counter-protestor, arrived at Toronto General Hospital holding a sign that on one side read “I demand my right to be ignorant and selfish” with the other side reading “I know more than the scientists.”

Toronto Police says no arrests were made, and no charges were laid as a result of the rallies.

One Toronto hospital says protests against pandemic measures particularly dishearten staff who have cared for dying COVID-19 patients. The University Health Network runs the Toronto General Hospital, one of the locations where demonstrations were being held.

“Teams at UHN have worked tirelessly throughout the pandemic, often putting their own wellbeing aside, to protect those most at risk in our community. They have fought to keep the community safe and deserve that same right to safety when coming to work,” UHN wrote on Twitter.

“Demonstrations outside of hospitals not only put healthcare workers and staff at risk but also patients who come to the hospital for care. UHN Security teams and Toronto Police Services are aware and will work to ensure safe access for staff and patients to the hospitals.”

Some high-ranking Ontario politicians and prominent healthcare organizations have issued warnings ahead of the protests, expected to occur at hospitals across Canada.

An organization calling itself Canadian Frontline Nurses posted notices of “silent vigils” expected to take place in all ten provinces, saying they’re meant to critique public health measures put in place to curb the spread of COVID-19.

Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau says a re-elected government will make it a crime to block access to health care facilities. Trudeau says he will also make it a crime to intimidate a health care worker or medical patients.

“We’re going to make it a criminal offence for anyone to threaten or intimidate a healthcare practitioner on their way to work in the practice and exercise of their duty,” Trudeau said Monday. “Or a patient on their way to get medical services.”

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“Vaccines are our best defence again COVID-19. We encourage everyone to get vaccinated, as it is the best form of protection from serious illness, hospitalization and death due to COVID-19, and will protect our healthcare system from being overwhelmed,” the UHN continued.

As of today, if you work for the City of Toronto, you have to disclose if you’ve been vaccinated against COVID-19. The mandatory vaccination policy goes into effect for Toronto Police today. The TTC’s starts the following Monday.

Mayor John Tory says the uptake has been impressive so far, with 97 per cent being either fully or partially vaccinated.

He isn’t saying yet whether staff who refuse will lose their jobs.

“We have said very clearly no options are off the table,” Tory said.

“You hope, both in the case of the Police and all of the other union parties in the city and the city itself, that it isn’t necessary to go down that road and that people will, after a period of reflection, persuasion, maybe some reassurance by the rest of us that have been vaccinated, and the majority, that they will get vaccinated.”

Premier Doug Ford and Mayor Tory condemned the protests outside hospitals today.

Tory says police are aware of the protest plans and will ensure no healthcare workers are harmed, and all patients can access the hospital.