A local woman whose family was accosted by anti-vaccine protesters at a clinic in North Bay late last year says she is relieved amended federal laws are now in effect to protect health care workers and those seeking access to health care services from violence, threats of violence or intimidation.
It has been nearly two months since Abby Blaszczyk and her family endured the verbal abuse and intimidation of protesters outside a children's COVID-19 vaccination clinic and she admits she is still running the events of that late-November day through her mind.
See original story: Local woman outraged by kids vaccine protest
Blaszczyk recounts the events of that day that garnered national media attention. Accompanied by her two young children and their grandmother, she vividly recalls the 10 or so protesters equipped with megaphones who swore and screamed at them as they pulled into the parking lot.
She says her son was clearly negatively impacted by the encounter. After he received his vaccination, the family left for their vehicle. As she attempted to spirit her children away from the protesters, they shouted at Blaszczyk that she was "murdering her child," and "committing genocide."
"I am firm in my statement that what happened that day was in no way a peaceful protest. What those people were doing was intimidation, it was harassment, and it was disgusting behaviour. I am angry and I will always be angry about this," Blaszczyk tells BayToday.
The Government of Canada introduced amendments to the Criminal Code in late November 2021 to enhance protections for health care workers and ensure everyone has safe and unobstructed access to health care. Those amendments passed unanimously in the House of Commons.
The federal government stated, "Health care workers have long faced difficult working conditions, including violence and threats of violence in the workplace. This situation has been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic. High profile public demonstrations have interfered with health care workers and the public from accessing health care facilities."
Punishable by a maximum penalty of 10 years imprisonment on indictment, these specific intimidation offences "further protect health care workers, those who assist them, and persons seeking health services. The new intimidation offence is meant to address circumstances where a health care worker, or person seeking health services, is subject to any intimidating conduct. This could include threats, or other forms of violence, that are intended to provoke fear to interfere with the duties of a health care worker, or to impede a person from receiving health care services."
To clarify, a specific obstructing offence would "not apply where a person is peacefully protesting or communicating information, such as on a picket line outside a health facility, even if that has a minor impact on the ability of others to access the facility."
Update: It is now illegal to intimidate doctors, nurses, and patients – or to obstruct them from providing care or seeking treatment – as our government’s legislation to criminalize this behaviour comes into force today. We’ll continue to have the backs of health care workers.— Justin Trudeau (@JustinTrudeau) January 16, 2022
"I was incredibly pleased when the legislation came into effect, but more, I was relieved," Blaszczyk shares. "While I do think it’s long overdue, I am relieved that the federal government has taken the initiative to protect families like mine, all healthcare workers, and patients from the obvious abuse that was going on, while our provincial government remained entirely silent and allowed it to continue time and time again."
Blaszczyk does not shy away from giving her opinion on governance just as she has not backed down from the flood of hateful messages she received in the wake of the incident and media coverage.
"It eventually died down, but I did receive a ton of hate, which was a lot to take," she acknowledges." People sending me private messages telling me I should rot, continuing to call me a murderer and a terrible mother."
Blaszczyk says she draws strength from her family, friends, and colleagues — and many others who experienced the same behaviour — from friends of friends, and countless people posting about their similar experiences beneath the articles on social media. They have helped her advocate for others under trying circumstances.
"We got a ton of support. I even had a retired education worker out west send a card to my son in the mail telling him what a hero he was. The good far outweighed the bad, thankfully."
With files from Chris Dawson