Way across the line - The Orca

Way across the line

Rob Shaw 2

Rob Shaw: Like elsewhere in Canada, BC is seeing more troubling forms of protests, with explicit threats of violence – and it might only be a matter of time before someone gets hurt.

Anti-vaccine protesters are crossing all sorts of lines these days in their opposition to the life-saving medicine that is scientifically proven to be safe and effective in combating COVID-19.

A group of anti-vaxxers held a self-styled “freedom rally” on the lawn of the BC legislature Thursday, where they hanged in effigy large stuffed dolls plastered with the faces of Premier John Horgan, Health Minister Adrian Dix and Public Safety Minister Mike Farnworth.

The whole thing was amateur and cartoonish, but also very disturbing.

The organizers tried to argue that those hanging the dolls were not technically part of the organizing group, and they were siphoning away attention from their main argument, which was that the COVID-19 vaccine is an “experiment” that violates the medical code of ethics developed during the Nuremberg trials of Nazi scientists who conducted horrendous human experiments on Jewish people during the Second World War.

It’s hard to tell who the bigger idiots were – the hangmen or the Nuremberg protesters. Perhaps it’s not even necessary to differentiate, both were so clearly and completely over the line.

“Unacceptable,” said Attorney General David Eby in a statement. “Implied or actual threats of violence are totally unacceptable.”

Victoria police are apparently investigating the event.

Further north of the legislature, in Campbell River, anti-vaxxers were making life miserable for BC NDP North Island MLA Michele Babchuk.

They had been picketing her constituency office, crowding the sidewalks and demanding she back their claims against the province’s vaccine mandate. Babchuk refused. “We must continue to follow the science and stand up for what’s right,” she said.

So the protesters forced their way into her constituency office, frightening her staff and putting them at risk of COVID-19 from unvaccinated intruders who refused to wear masks. Babchuk called it “downright shameful.”

The worst was yet to come.

“This past weekend, they escalated even further and protested outside my home,” Babchuk wrote on Facebook.

“This is completely unacceptable. My staff, my family, my neighbours and I all have a right to a safe workplace and to be safe at home. I cannot condemn their actions strongly enough.

“The RCMP were called on both occasions, and these issues will not proceed with the courts.”

Most likely, the protesters will get a slap on the wrist in the court, if that.

Other MLAs were also reporting disturbing encounters with anti-vaxxers.

BC Green leader and Cowichan Valley MLA Sonia Furstenau announced she was moving her Duncan constituency office to a new location after “a significant increase in interactions in our constituency office that have left people feeling uncomfortable or unsafe in their workplace.”

That included a group of people opposed to COVID vaccine cards entering her office the week before and refusing to leave. Furstenau said it wasn’t fair to other tenants in the building to have their services disrupted due to the protest activity at her office, and so she’d find a new space to rent.

Meanwhile on the mainland, BC Liberal Surrey-White Rock MLA Trevor Halford reported mentally unwell people damaging his constituency office and hitting the windows. He had to call RCMP.

In Dawson Creek, Peace River South MLA Mike Bernier has received death threats from anti-vaxxers for his stance promoting vaccination and science-based information. Hundreds of protesters regularly target his constituency office, shutting down the streets around the building.

And then there is the disturbing story of BC Forests Minister Katrine Conroy, who was knocked to the ground on a Victoria street near the BC Legislature earlier this month while walking home. She was injured and suffered a concussion, which has affected her memory of the incident. Police aren’t sure if it was random, or if she was targeted as a politician and minister.

All of this paints a frightening picture of rhetoric and violence against elected officials increasing at a disturbing rate. Much of it appears to be fueled by the anti-authority, anti-establishment, anti-science protest fringe, of which there are many varying degrees of nuttiness, paranoia and tin foil-hattery.

In Ontario, the province’s health minister had her home targeted by anti-vaxxers this week who chanted, used fog horns and banged on pots and pans at 10 p.m. There are similar examples across the country, including at the home of a medical officer of health in suburban Ontario, the top doctor on Prince Edward Island and Saskatchewan’s chief medical health officer.

Crown prosecutors should throw the book at the protesters for whatever offences could stick, given the circumstances. It is clearly in the public interest to prosecute these individuals to the fullest extent of the law, to send a message that similar actions are unacceptable.

Doing nothing only normalizes the behaviour of storming MLA offices, picketing their homes and threatening their lives. It also emboldens protesters to keep pushing the envelope. How long do we think it will be before a politician is seriously hurt, or worse?

There are certainly important principles to balance here, including free speech and the right to peaceful and lawful protests against governments, politicians and policies. But right now, the balance is out of whack in favour of protesters who attempt to intimidate our elected representatives in ways that are clearly over the line, with seemingly very little consequences.

Rob Shaw has spent more than 13 years covering BC politics, now reporting for CHEK News and writing for The Orca. He is the co-author of the national best-selling book A Matter of Confidence, and a regular guest on CBC Radio.