Rallies against public health orders near Winkler, HSC draw condemnation, exasperation

Manitoba’s Shared Health is condemning an anti-vaccine mandate protest outside the Health Sciences Centre saying demonstrators aggressively harassed patients and staff for wearing masks.

Several dozen people showed up at the Winnipeg hospital Wednesday afternoon to protest what they call an infringement on their human rights.

Some protesters carried signs opposing vaccine passports and at one point, they walked out into traffic — blocking vehicles from passing.

Read more: 34 new COVID-19 cases, no deaths reported in Manitoba Tuesday

Shared Health says some patients opted to cancel their appointments rather than approach the demonstrators standing near the entrance.

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“We have heard from staff and patients who experienced difficulty accessing our facility or who were aggressively harassed for wearing masks,” they said in a statement sent to media.

“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.

“We also encourage those who have concerns about the vaccine to talk to their physician or health-care provider about it.”

It’s not the only protest in recent days.

Over the weekend, about 1,000 people railed against public health rules in the Rural Municipality of Stanley, just south of Winkler.

People gathered in Winkler at a public health protest on Sunday, Aug. 29, 2021. Facebook/ManitobaFreedomRally

Winkler mayor Martin Harder told 680 CJOB the vaccination debate has divided his community, and while he’s frustrated by the low vaccination rate and his city’s position “at the bottom end of the joke barrel” in Manitoba, he has sympathy for local business owners who are fighting restrictions.

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Read more: Winkler mayor says punitive approach to vaccine opponents isn’t working

“I think one of the reasons why the frustration has mounted to where it is today is because we really haven’t had anyone here to listen,” he said.

“The question I asked yesterday at the meeting we had — and we had all of the restaurant owners and the gym owner that was in town — was ‘Why the rally in Winkler? What are we supposed to do different than what is mandated?’

“And the answer was simply, ‘You’re the first stop I can go to because nobody listens.’”

Click to play video: '‘Health Freedom’ protestors target B.C. hospitals' ‘Health Freedom’ protestors target B.C. hospitals

‘Health Freedom’ protestors target B.C. hospitals

Harder said the restaurant industry, in particular, has been hit hard, with so many changes to COVID-19 protocols throughout the pandemic, and that people in the community — business owners and employees alike — are tired of jockeying back and forth between being on or off work, open or closed.

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Read more: Steinbach restaurant to close indoor dining due to vaccine passport

It’s something he’s been hearing from his constituents, along with concerns from those residents who are in favour of the restrictions, which has been a delicate balancing act, he said.

“As with any political office these days, it’s not a popular place to be — on one hand, (you’re) not doing enough for the ones who are vaccinated, not promoting it enough … and on the other hand, doing too much. It’s interesting how you get blamed for things you have no control over.

“The rally is very similar — I can’t change the rules. Maybe in some people’s minds, they expect I have that power… I didn’t realize I did. But we’re going to do the best that we can.”

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