REGINA — Saskatchewan NDP critics said today they want to see protective bubbles instated around hospitals in Saskatchewan, after a rash of anti-pandemic protests across the country last week.
Opposition leader Ryan Meili, joined by Opposition Critic for Justice Nicole Sarauer and Opposition Critic for Labour critic Carla Beck, stood outside Regina General Hospital and called on the Sask Party to take action to protect hospital staff.
In the past few weeks, anti-mask and anti-vaccine protests have taken place on the doorsteps of hospitals across Canada, including at Saskatoon City Hospital.
The NDP are looking to see a mandated perimeter of safe space created around hospitals and other healthcare facilities, to protect frontline workers and those visiting patients from potential harassment and intimidation by such events.
“When it's such a devastating, fragile time in your life, to have to deal with that sort of harassment is absolutely unacceptable,” said Sarauer.
Sarauer said the responsibility falls to the government to either enact an order under the Public Health Act, or recall the legislature to session to vote on an emergency order.
The proposed safe zone, or protest bubbles, are needed as an emergency provision while the pandemic continues, said Sarauer, but the NDP would also be interested to see them as a permanent measure as well.
She said that while harassment can be punishable as a criminal offense, the NDP are hoping to see protective measures that will prevent that situation before it happens.
“We shouldn’t have to get to that point, where police have to be laying charges,” said Sarauer. “The government has a wide swath of powers under the public health act to enact orders [and] there’s no excuse for why it can’t be done.”
Meili said that many families and health care staff have already reached out to share concerns about being harassed or intimidated outside hospitals by anti-pandemic protestors.
"There was a period at the beginning of the pandemic where we were all, with one voice, thanking our healthcare heroes. I want to get us back to that and get rid of this nonsense of people criticizing folks who are working so hard," said Meili.
Both Meili and Sarauer condemned protestors targeting already-overworked hospital staff and patrons at health care facilities, and said that these types of displays should be held at the Legislative building.
“Health care workers aren’t making policies, government is,” said Sarauer. “Canadians have a constitutional right to protest, but we feel that preventing protestors from harassing health care workers in a pandemic is a reasonable limit to that.”
The call follows an announcement from the Sask. government on Monday that the emergency orders from earlier in the pandemic to allow relocation of health authority staff would be reinstated.
Beck said that while opposition has been calling for more action from the government to address the province’s COVID-19 situation, there should have been more negotiations with contract holders before calling back these orders.
“There were some issues with the original orders that were being worked out, but instead of working with those providers, the folks the minister likes to call heroes, they’ve been treated in a way that makes them feel devalued and underappreciated,” said Beck.
The critics once again criticized Premier Scott Moe and his ministers for “taking the summer off,” and said that the Sask Party is not listening to medical advice offered by provincial experts in the face of the province's rising case numbers.