An anti-vax group that has organized a series of protests at hospitals across Canada will be taking “a break” following their much-derided rallies that saw protests facing off with health care workers.
In a series of coordinated anti-vaccine passport and anti-vaccine protests planned in front of hospitals across Canada Monday, protesters chanted, yelled, and pleaded with health care professionals to “tell the truth about COVID.” In some cases police lined up in front of the protesters to protect health care workers and patients in the hospitals.
The rallies were organized by Canadian Frontline Nurses, an anti-vax group created by a small collection of nurses—most of whom have been fired or are not currently working in nursing. The rallies were, of course, amplified by a network of anti-lockdown figures. The nursing licences of two of the founders, Kristen Nagle and Sarah Choujounian, are both under investigation from the College of Nurses of Ontario. Both Nagle and Choujounian know a thing or two about large demonstrations: they both spoke at one of the Jan. 6 rallies in Washington that ended with protesters storming the Capitol.
Following the protests, Nagle took to Telegram, a social media platform, and posted a video talking about how “the hate is pouring in” and that “a lot of people are angry.”
“We won't be silenced, but we will be taking a break,” she said. “We definitely need to regroup, recharge, refocus, and pivot, and, you know, figure out what we're going to do.”
“We will not be at the hospitals again. So hopefully that gives some people a peace of mind.”
Nagle said the group is going to focus on “building back credibility” and working with purported first responders who likewise protested against vaccine mandates. She also complained that “antifa” showed up to counter-protest in Alberta by playing “satanic music really loud.”
While the turnouts varied, with some protests attracting dozens of supporters and others hundreds, the reaction was uniform—anger against the anti-vaxxers and their decision to target hospitals. The events even prompted Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to declare that his party will make it “a criminal offence to block access to buildings that provide health care… whether that's hospitals, clinics, abortion clinics, pharmacies, testing centres.”
Canada is now in the midst of the fourth wave of COVID-19 and health care services are bearing the brunt. Over 90 percent of the cases are coming from those not fully vaccinated and modelling shows the situation is going to get worse. Canadian Frontline Nurses has been disavowed from multiple health care organizations. Late last week, the Canadian Nurses Association wrote the fringe group’s “outlandish assertions about science would be laughable were they not so dangerous.”
“These protests have stunned and saddened exhausted health care workers. They are demoralizing, infuriating, and dangerous. The situation is completely unacceptable, and it must stop immediately,” said the statement.
Other nursing groups put out statements making it clear they were in no way associated with Canadian Frontline Nurses.
Nagle, Choujounian, and their two other co-founders have been active in anti-lockdown and COVID-conspiracy circles for months, but their group really became known to a wider audience after organizing its first round of hospital protests earlier this month. Videos of those protests—showing anti-vaxxers congregating outside of hospital doors and yelling at health care workers—went viral and turned the group into villains across the country
Health care staff going to work at Vancouver General Hospital the day of the first rally were “spat at, cursed at, yelled at. Women had misogynist comments directed at them; people were being yelled at through megaphones,” Doctors of BC president Matthew Chow told Global News. “It just compounded the sense of fatigue and burnout people have been having.”
The protests on Monday were smaller and more subdued than the Sept. 1 rallies, most likely due to the deluge of bad press the rallies brought to the movement. The protests were condemned by, well, pretty much everyone not within the movement. Canadian Frontline Nurses received significant blowback on social media for their decision to rehash hospital protests, and commentators flooded their Facebook page, shaming them for protesting hospitals and urging them to move their events elsewhere.
Perhaps as a result, organizers of the Winnipeg and Vancouver events moved their protests from hospitals to government buildings (or in the case of Saskatoon, behind the hospital) but most rallies were staged in front of hospitals as planned. Those in attendance were a loose mix of people who populate fringe, far-right, or conspiracy groups as well as People’s Party of Canada supporters and candidates. None of the rallies held the same intensity as past ones but there were still some cases of protesters yelling directly at nurses.
Nagle, in a video posted to Telegram Sunday, said the protests were against the health care rules, not health care workers——despite the majority of the protests being at hospitals and not government buildings. Nagle did acknowledge the hurt the protests were causing and said the decision was a result of “desperation” arising from the group protesting at government buildings but their demands falling on “deaf ears.”
She also said she and her followers are fighting “a spiritual battle; it’s good versus evil. ”(Nagle and some of the other co-founders are open about how their faith is a driving reason in their anti-vaccine activism.)
Health care workers took to social media to beg the group to protest if they feel they need to, but do so away from hospitals.
"Hospitals are sacred places of healing. It's where people go for safety, for protection, for treatment, for love, for peace, and sometimes for death. They're not the place to be yelling and screaming and intimidating," said Dr. Michael Warner, a Toronto ICU doctor who has become known for his stark descriptions of life inside a hospital during the pandemic. "Especially when so many people on the other side of the doors of those hospitals are suffering from the disease that certain people refuse to get vaccinated for."
Politicians came out in droves against the hospital protests. Ontario Premier Doug Ford said the protests were "selfish, cowardly, and reckless." Alberta Premier Jason Kenney said the protesters had "appalling judgement." Toronto Mayor John Tory called it "beyond the pale" while Toronto police said they were ready to arrest anyone who obstructed "hospital operations and public safety" (although the heavy-handed nature Toronto police has used on homeless encampments compared to the light hand used on people blocking hospitals isn’t lost on anyone).
While Frontline Nurses and many other groups in this milieu have attempted to rebrand themselves from anti-vaccination to “pro-choice,” they remain entrenched in anti-vaccination messaging and spreading misinformation that the COVID-19 virus and the pandemic aren’t real.
“Everything around us is an illusion,” said Nagle. “None of this is real. It is all lies
Follow Mack Lamoureux on Twitter.