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New act protects important services from disruption

BC Premier John Horgan said while everyone has a right to protest, interfering with patients accessing hospital care or with kids trying to get to school is completely unacceptable.

New legislation will help maintain access to critical services that British Columbians rely on and protect those who provide those services, as the Province moves to prevent disruptive behaviour from affecting schools and health-care facilities.

"Over the last few months, we've seen a small number of people protesting against COVID-19 protective measures by blocking access to health-care facilities and schools," said Premier John Horgan.

"While everyone has a right to protest, interfering with patients accessing hospital care or with kids trying to get to school is completely unacceptable. This legislation will help to keep these important facilities secure and ensure the safety of both those who use them and those who work in them."

The proposed legislation will protect hospitals, COVID-19 test and vaccination centres, and K-12 schools by establishing 20-metre (66 feet) access zones around them. Within an access zone, it will be an offence to impede access to the facility, disrupt services or act in a way that could reasonably be expected to cause service users or providers concern for their physical or mental safety.

"Protecting access to our hospitals and health-care facilities is paramount to the safety of our patients, staff and volunteers,” said Manpreet Khaira, interim executive director, acute care, Victoria, Island Health.

“Staff, medical staff and the people visiting our hospitals deserve the certainty this change brings."

David Eby, BC Attorney General, said the pandemic has been incredibly stressful for all British Columbians, and we don't need added pressure on key workers who are already under significant strain due to the impact of COVID-19.

“Free speech is an important right, but there is no right to intimidate already stressed and pressured health-care workers, patients, students, teachers and staff,” Eby said.

“This bill establishes vital safeguards for our heroic essential service providers so they can do their jobs for all of us."

The act will give police the power to arrest or issue tickets to anyone impeding access to a facility, disrupting services or intimidating or attempting to intimidate an individual within access zones. In addition, courts will be able to issue an injunction to prevent people from contravening the act. The act will not apply to lawful job action in access zones, as determined by the Labour Relations Board.

"It's time now for the Province to act to keep our essential workers safe and ensure that disruptive actions do not put them under further stress or prevent people from accessing life-saving health care in their time of need," said Adrian Dix, Minister of Health.

Mike Farnworth, Minister of Public Safety and Solicitor General, said: "Health-care workers, children and teachers deserve to feel safe when they go to work or school but we've seen a number of protests recently where they've been the target of anger and abuse. This new measure will allow law enforcement to act if an individual or group continues to put others at risk through their thoughtless and selfish actions."

The act will continue to provide protection until July 1, 2023, though it may be repealed earlier if it is no longer required.