As the pandemic continues, the Quebec government tabled a bill Thursday to ban anti-vaccine protests near hospitals, schools, daycares as well as COVID-19 immunization and testing clinics.
“I understand that it is difficult to restrict the right to protest, but, frankly, there are limits,” Premier François Legault wrote on his Facebook page earlier in the day.
“We must spare our children, those who are sick and the workers in the health network who take care of our loved ones during a pandemic that affects them all.”
The bill proposes fines ranging from $1,000 to $6,000 for those who hold or organize demonstrations within 50 metres of certain educational and health institutions.
The penalties would go as high as $12,000 for any protester who intimidates or threatens people entering or leaving schools, daycares, hospitals and designated COVID-19 testing or vaccination centres.
Public Security Minister Geneviève Guilbault tabled the proposed legislation in the provincial legislature after it was presented to the government’s caucus Wednesday. The special law would expire when the health emergency order that has been in place since March 2020 is lifted.
The three main opposition parties have voiced their support to limit protests against COVID-19 health orders near schools and hospitals. Legault said Wednesday that he hopes to pass the bill within a day, however that will require the unanimous consent of all members of the legislature.
The province’s lone Conservative MNA has said she wants to see what’s it in the proposed legislation and to discuss it before passing it into law.
“It’s not a small affair,” Claire Samson told reporters at the National Assembly before the bill was tabled. “I think we need time.”
Quebec has seen anti-vaccine demonstrations outside of educational and health institutions over the past month — and the premier said he wonders how workers on the front lines of the pandemic feel when they witness one.
“What is perhaps most shocking to me is to imagine how our nurses must be feeling when they see this,” Legault wrote in his social media post. “These women and men have been giving body and soul for months to treat COVID patients despite very difficult working conditions.”
Dr. Gilbert Boucher, president of the Quebec association of emergency medicine specialists, welcomed the move.
“It’s finally time that the government does something about it because this is not appropriate,” he said, adding anti-vaccine protesters are spreading “fake news.”
“They’re using theories really to block the vaccine and there’s no scientific data not to get the vaccine.”
Human rights lawyer Julius Grey, however, said he saw no need for new legislation.
“The right to demonstrate is a specifically enshrined right. And there are already provisions in case of noisy, aggressive, dangerous, violent demonstrations,” he said. “All you have to do is enforce the rules about violence, noise and insistence and everything will be fine.”
—with files from Global News’ Annabelle Olivier, Oliva O’Malley and The Canadian Press
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