Amid condemnation from officials, a few dozen protesters rally against vaccine mandates outside Ottawa Hospital
OTTAWA -- Aside from a few choice words of anger directed at media, the protest outside the Ottawa Hospital on Monday was largely peaceful.
A few dozen people rallied across the street from the Ottawa Hospital Civic Campus. The event was billed as a silent vigil of solidarity.
The protest was advertised in advance and was widely condemned by politicians and health officials before it even began.
Ottawa mayor Jim Watson asked those who planned to protest in front of the Ottawa Hospital Monday to respect essential services and he warned that police would be ready to respond, if necessary.
Several demonstrations were planned outside hospitals across Canada on Monday.
Watson tweeted that while he respects the right to protest, he is opposed to anyone affecting the health care system.
"As Canadians, we have the right to express our beliefs. However, when these protests get in the way of the critical work of our healthcare professionals during a pandemic, I won’t have it," he wrote.
"My office has engaged with (Ottawa police) and they have advised that they will be ready to respond as required."
In an interview with CTV News Ottawa, Watson called the protest irresponsible.
"This is, in my opinion, bad timing and the height of irresponsibility that a group would actually go—and in some instances we've seen in Toronto and other cities—actually block people, in one case, a cancer patient, from their appointment," he said.
"We're still in the midst of the worst pandemic we've seen in our lifetime and the last we thing we need to do is have doctors, nurses, personal support workers, maintenance staff and patients getting harassed getting in and out of the hospital," he added.
"And the other thing is, having a protest, and so close together in the midst of a pandemic, is really a stupid idea."
Watson said the City of Ottawa does not have the legal authority to enforce so-called "safe zones" outside of hospitals, but said the provincial government does. In its absence, Watson urged demonstrators to stay away from the hospital grounds.
"Protests, stay across the street. Don't interfere with traffic or entrance or access to the hospital, that is completely off limits and completely ridiculous and anyone who does that should be challenged by the police," Watson said.
A small group of counter demonstrators demonstrated in support of health-care workers Monday afternoon.
One was dressed in a T-Rex costume and held a sign that said "This is an asinine place to protest."
Ottawa city councillors Catherine McKenney, Shawn Menard and Jeff Leiper sent a joint letter to Anthony Di Monte, the city's general manager of emergency and protective services, urging him to ensure that access to the hospital is not restricted.
"The safety, effectiveness and public health policy rationale for vaccine mandates have been sufficient demonstrated. We cannot allow these protests to endanger safe access to our healthcare system," the wrote.
Coun. Diane Deans, chair of the police services board, also said police would have resources to intervene if necessary. She urged demonstrators to consider another location, and shared a story of her own health challenges, having battled ovarian cancer.
"As someone who has been through a major health crisis, I would implore (Monday's) protesters to remember health care workers are there to provide critical care and patients are there to receive that care. This should be unimpeded. There are other places to protest," Deans said.
The Ottawa Hospital's Twitter account shared a seven-tweet thread about the planned demonstration.
"Those demonstrating outside of the hospital are putting not only staff and physicians at risk, but also the hundreds of patients who come to the hospital for care every day," the thread said. "While we respect everyone’s right to free speech, we disagree with the position that these demonstrators have taken.
"We encourage everyone to get vaccinated, as it is the best form of protection from serious illness, hospitalization and death due to COVID-19."
The Ottawa Hospital added that it increased its security presence to protect staff and patients.
Calls for "safe zones" outside of hospitals grow louder
On the campaign trail, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said a re-elected Liberal government would make it a criminal offence to block access to buildings that provide health-care services or threaten or intimidate those that work there.
Meanwhile, Ontario NDP Leader Andrea Horwath called on Premier Doug Ford to recall the legislature and pass legislation that would create "safe zones" around hospitals and small businesses to limit anti-vaccine protests.
Ford said on Sunday that the protests were "selfish, cowardly, and reckless."
The legislature is prorogued until Oct. 4, two weeks after the federal election.
The Ontario Nurses Association also weighed in, issuing a statement on Monday expressing its "adamant" opposition to the protests against vaccine mandates.
"As a union, ONA is not opposed to peaceful protests, but there is a time, place and subject – and what we are seeing today definitely isn't it. We know from previous protests on the streets in front of hospitals, that nurses and health-care professionals, along with their patients and their families, were harassed entering the facilities, and we implore these protesters to ensure their safe passage. Hospitals must be safe zones for patients, families and staff," wrote ONA President Vicki McKenna, a registered nurse.
--With files from CTV News Ottawa's Stefan Keyes.