The B.C. government is moving to give cabinet the authority to create protection zones around health care and other facilities that may be targeted by protesters against COVID-19 vaccine and treatment services.
Attorney General David Eby introduced a bill Monday that would “preserve safe and unimpeded access” for people going to work or receiving service, after hospitals were targeted in September by protesters objecting to proof-of-vaccination requirements for jobs and entry to restaurants and entertainment events.
Premier John Horgan, who is being treated for cancer, issued a statement explaining the need for the law, which gives the B.C. cabinet authority to designate other locations for what has been called “bubble zones” to allow police to stop protests.
“Over the last few months, we’ve seen a small number of people protesting against COVID-19 protective measures by blocking access to health-care facilities and schools,” Horgan said Nov. 15. “While everyone has a right to protest, interfering with patients accessing hospital care or with kids trying to get to school is completely unacceptable. This legislation will help to keep these important facilities secure and ensure the safety of both those who use them and those who work in them.”
The proposed legislation will protect hospitals, COVID-19 test and vaccination centres, and K-12 schools by establishing 20-metre (66 feet) access zones around them. Within an access zone, it will be an offence to impede access to the facility, disrupt services or act in a way that could reasonably be expected to cause service users or providers concern for their physical or mental safety.
Eby noted that the legislation exempts strikes or lockouts involving the designated facilities. The legislation, expected to pass by the end of November, is set to expire on July 1, 2023, and may be repealed earlier if the government determines it is no longer required.
Hospitals in Kelowna, Nelson and other B.C. communities were targeted by protests on Sept. 1 after Health Minister Adrian Dix and provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry announced the use of proof-of-vaccine access for restaurants, fitness, sports and other indoor non-essential spaces.
“It’s time now for the province to act to keep our essential workers safe and ensure that disruptive actions do not put them under further stress or prevent people from accessing life-saving health care in their time of need,” Dix said Monday.