The NDP government has moved towards taking action on the recent burst of COVID related protests at community facilities as Hospitals and Schools, with David Eby, the Attorney General and Minister responsible for Housing introducing Bill 20-2021 the Access to Services Act.
The Bill would serve to restrict access by protesters to the following:
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MLA's have taken up the Bill for Debate this week, and among those who have explored the goals of the legislation is Stikine MLA Nathan Cullen, who outlined a number of areas where he is in favour of the Bill and how it will be used.
The MLA picked up on the discussion as part of the second reading for the bill on Tuesday morning, addressing the recent times of discontent found in his own riding.
Bill 20 speaks specifically to this, and it's been enumerated a number of different ways here this afternoon so I won't spend a great deal of time on it. It is trying to find a way to create these bubble zones in legislation, in law, with very serious fines and potential of arrests associated with breaking what we are describing here today — breaking through the bubble zones to protect our schools, to protect hospitals, vaccine clinics.
And there would be some that would say: "What a state of affairs that we need such a law." It seems decent, common understanding that a place not to disrupt is a hospital. That a place not to protest is a school where our children are attending. With all that we can do to keep those people in particular safe — vulnerable people who are sick and our children.
And yet here we are.
Because we saw these protests in my community in Smithers, particularly at the hospital: the Bulkley Valley Hospital. And it was incredibly troubling. I spoke to a number of nurses and doctors, people who were patients in the hospital at the time. And despite some thin arguments from some of the protesters that they were there supporting hospital workers, that was not at all how it was received.
It was felt as threatening. It was felt as incredibly disruptive, and we saw that it was coordinated. It was across the province in many, many communities — small and large.
Some of the larger ones, particularly in the city, in Vancouver and Victoria, were so large and so energetic as to interrupt ambulance services and to go after hospital workers.
Mr. Cullen spoke to the balancing act that any legislation requires, while addressing the more disturbing images of the summer and fall period.
There are balancing acts, always, when talking about rights — the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. In there, there are rights to expression, freedom of assembly and freedom of movement.
And there are also inherent responsibilities built in those: that the state, from time to time, must seek, in keeping all of us safe, some small infringements on those rights. You can't scream "fire" in a movie theatre. We all know the examples of speech, for example.
Screaming at hospital workers, spitting at them and calling them all sorts of horrible names is a right that one does not possess in this province. You don't get to harass and intimidate somebody going to work.
You don't get to go after our kids in schools. That is not right. So we're creating these safety zones, these bubble zones, around these particular places. And if there is cause in future dates — if other sites, vulnerable places, vulnerable people are targeted — Bill 20 allows, in its legislation, to create other safety zones for those who are being attacked.
And, like I said earlier, fines, arrests by police are possible.
I noticed there were some concerns from our Green colleagues as to too far an encroachment of these rights. I think the understanding of what we're talking about here is behaviour that I hope we collectively see as reprehensible and that clearly, the rights do not extend to that behaviour.
And I will note that in our small town of Smithers, when the hospital protests started, it occurred to me, and particularly to my partner, my wife, who said: "If they want to protest, they should go to your office."
So I said so. I said so on social media. I said so to our newspaper. And it was well received as an idea, because I am elected.
We try to represent people. If someone has a problem with the way that we are governing, if the decisions we are making in government or in this Legislature is a problem for them, they can come and peacefully protest in front of my office. And they do, every Friday, sometimes Wednesdays and the odd Tuesday.
A dedicated group of folks who — I will say this somewhat parenthetically — have also found, at times, a way to, what I would call, cross the line.
The Stikine MLA also made note of some personal themes from the debate in his own experience and how the narrative of the times has become concerning.
As people in my constituency know, I'm of Jewish heritage. My father is Jewish. Recently, at some of those protests, it has become de rigueur or the fashion to use yellow Stars of David and other symbols of the Holocaust when protesting science, when protesting vaccines.
I found this incredibly disturbing, as this is a known part of who I am in my community. Yet at the time, my reaction may have been unwise — to be a little bit more vociferous in calling that behaviour out.
I saw a much better reaction from my community, which called that behaviour out and said that invoking the Holocaust and invoking Nazi Germany when talking about the need to put on a mask, the need to be vaccinated to go to your yoga class, is such a reprehensible and false equivalency that it is undermining their argument.
It is so ludicrous, it is so insensitive, it is so inflammatory to use images of the Holocaust to describe public health orders in British Columbia and in Canada right now that they themselves are inflicting the greatest harm on their so-called argument as to why we shouldn't be vaccinated, despite the evidence.
I have spoken to many constituents. Some are grieved, and they tell me their concerns. I listen to their concerns, of course, because we do. That's what we do as legislators.
The argument that can't be fought back against is when I say: "Look. Here is the evidence of what's going on in our community right now." That our hospital has been overrun. That our northern region is, from time to time and still today, evacuating people out, medevacking them out on airplanes to hospitals in the south because we do not have the capacity just to handle the COVID cases, never mind all the other emergencies that come through our door.
The conclusion of his presentation to the Legislature noted of the vitriol directed at MLA's and a hope for more civilized discussion, as well as the need to protect those who have become the focal point of protest in our communities.
We've seen death threats issued to colleagues across the way in the north. I've seen the hate directed my way, as many of us have. When we're in elected office we can handle quite a bit. That's what we have signed up for. It's not all glory and roses.
People can disagree with us. They don't have to be disagreeable, and they certainly should not be targeting hospitals and schools and other vulnerable places for their so-called demonstrations.
There's a right way to protest. Some of us have engaged in such things, in various ways, over our lives — signed petitions and showed up at marches and rallies.
But I hope — and I think this is true — that it has never occurred to any of us that what we should do is go out and threaten a hospital, nurses, doctors, or go after a school and scare children or threaten teachers or custodians. That's beyond.
So let us celebrate the things that have brought us together. Let us be vigilant about those things that continue to threaten to tear that fabric even more. Let's know that one day we'll get out of this thing. We should be stronger for it.
I think that we're stronger when we realize a greater sense of purpose and responsibility. Bill 20 is in place for those that have not come to that realization and need a little help to understand that this is inappropriate and after this bill passes will, in fact, be illegal.
And I think that that's only a good thing.
More themes on the work of the Legislature can be explored below:
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