‘Like a smack in the face’: anti-vaccine mandate group protests at QEII Health Sciences Centre

By Kieran Delamont

A small but extremely vocal crowd of about two dozen people staged a “silent vigil” in front of the QEII Hospital on Monday afternoon — protesting specifically against the recently announced vaccine passport program while inveighing broadly against any and all public health responses to the COVID pandemic.

Organized by a group called Canadian Frontline Nurses, the vigil — according to organizers, meant to “remember anyone who lost businesses or their jobs” as a result of the pandemic — wasn’t altogether elegiac as the name might suggest, as demonstrators lined Robie Street near the entrance to the hospital.

The protest was a small iteration of similar protests going on nation-wide on Monday, as more provinces commit to some version of a vaccine passport scheme. Nova Scotia’s version, billed a “proof of vaccination program” (rather than a “passport”) comes into effect October 4th; while some specifics are yet to be worked out, it will cover most recreational establishments including bars, restaurants and cultural venues.

“It’s about the fact that in Canada we have freedom of choice,” said one demonstrator (none of whom were willing to give their names to members of the press), a middle-aged woman with her two children. She said that the hospital location was chosen to support health care workers who protestors say are — allegedly — being coerced into getting the vaccine or fired for refusing. (No instances of this happening in Nova Scotia have been publicized or confirmed.)

While the group Canadian Frontline Nurses has some representatives from the medical profession, it’s a splinter group of sorts, advocated for “medical freedom” and against vaccine mandates. In practice, however, it has attracted a wide range of views that were on display Monday, from those who believe the vaccine is a Bill Gates-funded population control tool to those who lightly compared the vaccine passport to the Nuremberg Laws of Nazi Germany. 

“It has come to our attention that the group Canadian Frontline Nurses is planning another protest for what they call a ‘national health freedom movement’ today at the QEII Health Sciences Centre, as well as hospitals and other locations across the country. This group has drawn in anti-science, anti-mask, anti-vaccine and anti-public health followers whose beliefs align with theirs. NSNU is NOT part of this group, nor do we endorse it,” said a statement from the Nova Scotia Nurse’s Union. “The vast majority of nurses know the devastating effects of COVID-19 and understand that the only way out of this pandemic is through social distancing, masking, good hand hygiene, vaccination and following science-based public health directives.”

“It’s like a smack in the face,” said one nurse, who came out from inside the hospital in PPE to visit the protest. “When you’re inside doing CPR to save people, this is a smack in the face.”

None of the protestors tried to prevent anyone from accessing the hospital's entrance, and police never needed to get involved to make sure the driveway wasn’t blocked. Beyond clogging the sidewalk, the event remained fairly tame, although protestors began harassing media members (including photographing their identification tags) virtually immediately; as the group caught wind of the initial media reports describing them as “anti-vax” or “anti-mask,” things deteriorated further.

The protest did spill across the street, however, where protestors started a shouting match with a house full of college kids holding signs reading “Vaccinated against stupidity” and “no vaccine, no kiss.” (At this point, the overall quality of discourse begins to degrade even further: “what about Dr. Strang? He lied!” shouts one protestor, standing at the steps of the house of students. “I don’t give a **** about Dr. Strang,” replied one of the students. And so on. This continued for some time, and the college students appeared to find it somewhat entertaining.)

“Hospitals are not the place for anti-vaccination protests,” said Nova Scotia's Health and Wellness Minister Michelle Thompson. “Our physicians, nurses and health care staff have worked throughout the pandemic to care for our loved ones and protect our communities. They all deserve to come to work safely and without harassment. Those choosing to protest outside hospitals are putting at risk the delivery of health care to the people who need it.”

By 4 p.m. the protestors, save for a couple still arguing with the college students, had dispersed.

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