Toronto healthcare workers planning counter protest to protect hospitals against expected convoy

With a COVID-19 trucker protest expected in Toronto, healthcare workers in nearby hospitals say they're worried their patients could get caught up in the mix. David Zura has hospitals' preparations. Plus, the message from convoy supporters.

By Meredith Bond and David Zura

Healthcare workers are planning a counter-protest against an anticipated convoy of truckers and their supporters as police and hospital officials prepare for their arrival at Queen’s Park Saturday morning.

Parts of University Avenue and College Street have been closed to regular traffic and healthcare workers are being advised by their employers and police to not wear clothes that might identify them.

The group of healthcare workers says the counter-protest is to “ensure health care services remain available to anyone who needs them.”

“Our singular message is that access to health care should never be compromised,” read a release. They also plan to defend the rights of health care workers to show up at their place of work free of harassment.

Any concerned Torontonian is welcome to participate and all are asked to wear masks. Healthcare workers who are joining are asked to wear white coats or greens.

The closures and expected convoy of truckers also has some physicians worried their patients could be caught up

“They’re coming from very far away and their cars don’t say ‘I’m a cancer patient’ and they’re just going to be caught up in the traffic and that 70-year-old metastatic patient is going to be walking in the snow trying to get to their hospital,” said Emergency Room Physician Dr. Raghu Venugopal. “This is the situation we want to avoid.”

He said he understands the right to protest but should not be able to block access to health care.

“The content is immaterial. People can protest Hawaiian pizza, or whether the world is flat or if they disagree with federal policy, that’s their choice, that’s their right in our democratic society. The real issue is, there cannot be a block of access and there cannot be intimidation of healthcare workers.”

Another physician, Dr. Michael Warner, recorded a statement urging protestors to consider how close they’ll be to hospitals.

“Before you lean on your horn and before you tell and scream, I want you to think about those patients, those people that could be you or someone in your family,” Dr. Warner said in a video.

The hospitals have also begun preparing for potential delays. In a statement, Mt. Sinai leadership said scheduled diagnostic imaging and surgeries are continuing as planned, but patients should prepare for delays when travelling to the hospital.

Meanwhile, the Ontario Nurses’ Association (ONA) condemns any protest activity that “prevents nurses and health-care professionals from doing their jobs.”

Kristen Nagle — a nurse who’s been participating in the protests that occurred in Ottawa over the weekend — plans to attend on Saturday.

She made headlines early last year after London Health Sciences Centre fired Nagle with cause after an investigation for organizing a lockdown protest and attending another one in the U.S.

She said they are not protesting against hospitals and are not against healthcare workers and added Saturday’s focus is political, not medical. “It has nothing to do with the hospitals, there’s no direction that anybody wants to take on the hospitals, it has nothing to do with that,” Nagle told CityNews.

Last fall, Toronto hospitals had protestors on their front lawns, rallying against vaccine mandates. Healthcare staff were able to keep working while people gathered outside.

When asked if those who are organizing the demonstration are prepared to remove those we’ve come with bad intentions, she said, “That message has been spread out loud and clear to everyone that is here. We want this peaceful, we want this [to be] respectful.”

And as for the honking from the “Freedom Convoy” that has plagued Ottawa residents for the last week, Nagle said there would absolutely not be honking 24 hours a day.

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