Crowd protesting vaccine mandates causes chaos outside of Health Sciences Centre

Hundreds of people protesting vaccine mandates swarmed Winnipeg’s largest hospital Wednesday afternoon, slowing traffic and some confronting people as they tried to enter.

Crowds gathered on the sidewalk outside Health Sciences Centre, hampering foot traffic into the 820 Sherbrook St. entrance and impeding vehicles turning into the drop-off loop for the rehabilitation and clinic areas.

Many held signs that read “My body, my choice: Stop vaccine passports” and chanted “No vaccine passports!”

Several patients trying to get into the hospital chastised the protesters for getting in the way.

The protest created traffic congestion that obstructed the arrival of ambulances, with sirens blaring, to the emergency department.

Eventually, led by a woman with a microphone, the group moved away from the entrance.

Sherbrook Street had to be closed for about an hour while police directed traffic.

Many drivers honked in support as they drove past the crowd.

Shared Health, the provincial organization that runs HSC, came out with a strong statement against the rally. 

A spokesperson said patients had difficulty getting in, were “aggressively harassed” for wearing masks, and some cancelled their appointments rather than approach the protesters standing near entrances.

‘Profoundly disrespectful’

In an emailed statement, the spokesperson wrote it was “disappointing to witness” and “profoundly disrespectful to the dedicated health-care workers who have continuously put the health and well-being of Manitobans first.”

“While we respect the freedom of individuals to protest public health orders, we urge them to do so in a peaceful manner that does not disrupt people’s access to medical care,” the statement continued.

Manitoba is requiring front-line workers who work with vulnerable people to be vaccinated by the end of October. Failing that, employees must submit to COVID-19 testing as often as three times a week.

Wednesday’s event was originally organized by a group called Canadian Frontline Nurses, in line with similar protests across the world against mandatory vaccines. Of the dozens of people the CBC spoke to at the rally, the vast majority said they were not health-care staff.

Groups at the rally, including Winnipeg Alternative Media and a group called Freedom Manitoba, told CBC the original organizers backed out of the event for fear of reprisal.

In a statement, the president of the Manitoba Nurses Union said the event was neither supported, sanctioned nor involved the union, and  MNU “is not in any way affiliated with the individuals calling themselves ‘Canadian Frontline Nurses.'”

“While it is unfortunate that this group is taking attention away from the important vaccination efforts happening across Canada, the vast majority of nurses in this country have seen first-hand the devastating effects of COVID-19 and understand that the only way out of this pandemic is through social distancing, masking and vaccination,” wrote Darlene Jackson.

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