[This story originally appeared on The North Coast Review, a blog based in Prince Rupert that contains “items of interest to those living on the North Coast of BC.”]
The NDP government has moved towards taking action on the recent burst of COVID-related protests at community facilities such 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:
MLAs 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 said the bill could create “very serious fines and potential of arrests” for people who interfere with schools, hospitals and vaccine clinics.
“It seems like a 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,” he said. “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,” he went on. “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.”
Cullen spoke to the balancing act that any legislation requires, while addressing the more disturbing images of the summer and fall period.
“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,” he said.
“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.”
Cullen said the legislation isn’t an attack on free speech. “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,” he said.
“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.”