Madam Speaker, first let me congratulate you on your appointment.
I would also like to take this opportunity, in this 44th Parliament, to sincerely thank the constituents of Nickel Belt for placing their trust in me for a third time. I also want to thank my wife, Lynn, for her unconditional support. It is not always easy to be the spouse of a member of the House of Commons. We also work very hard in the community. I want to give a big thank you to my mother, family, all the many volunteers who worked in the community, and my staff, Rebecca, Anne, Kaylie, Sheri, Sabrina and Stéphanie, for their support.
It is an honour to follow in my father's footsteps as the member for Nickel Belt and also to take up my new duties as the parliamentary secretary to the Minister of Official Languages.
Today, I am pleased to speak to Bill C-3, an act to amend the Criminal Code and the Canada Labour Code, at second reading stage.
Bill C-3 proposes reforms to the Criminal Code that would respond to the issues that have come to the forefront of the pandemic. The bill would seek to enhance protection to health workers and those who need their services at a critical time in Canada. I firmly believe that the proposed reforms show restraint in dealing with the very difficult circumstances that have arisen, particularly due to the small minority of COVID-19-related deniers and individuals engaging in serious and harmful conduct during anti-vaccination protests targeting the health sector and, as indicated earlier, retail and other sectors. I am proud of the way this government has dealt with this issue.
Bill C-3 proposes reforms that are targeted in nature and demonstrate the utmost respect for our Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
Today, I would like to speak about the events that we have all witnessed and that have led us to this important reform to criminal law. I will also speak to why our government’s commitment to enact these reforms is crucial in protecting not only our health care workers, but each and every Canadian who is in need of health services.
Currently, the Criminal Code provides a wide range of general responses to threats, intimidation and other forms of violence directed at all persons. However, new explicit offences are critical to send a clear message that such conduct is never appropriate.
We have all seen what has been reported in the media, stories about health workers being targeted directly and threatened over social media platforms, including Twitter, because of their work in promoting public health measures and treating those fallen ill to the pandemic. Health care facilities across the country were specifically targeted last summer and early fall, with images and reports of some ambulances being surrounded by a crowd and health care professionals being confronted when accessing their workplaces, as well as patients needing police escorts to access certain facilities.
In a November 5 tweet by Anthony Dale, president of the Ontario Hospital Association, he reported that one hospital CEO had received death threats because of the implementation of a mandatory vaccination policy. Other physicians and medical associations are reporting death threats against health care professionals. I am deeply troubled by these accounts.
Vaccine misinformation has unfortunately caused many to distrust and attack the medical community.
Examples are popping up near my riding of Nickel Belt and other parts of northern Ontario. Recently, Dr. Gretchen Roedde, a family physician from Latchford, a small community in northern Ontario, was victimized online, at home and reported by a growing anti-vaccination movement. Dr. Roedde has given in to these pressures and has decided to close her practice, leaving many in the community without adequate care. This is a chilling reminder of the challenges faced by our health care providers.
The Ontario Medical Association, OMA, and the Canadian Medical Association, CMA, have recently said that abuse and harassment of doctors during the pandemic is growing and is unacceptable.
Another worrisome trend we are seeing is that parents and children going to vaccination clinics are being subjected to threats and intimidation. On November 28, a woman from North Bay went to one of these clinics with her seven-year-old son, who had just become eligible for the COVID-19 vaccine. She later reported that she had been subjected to a torrent of verbal abuse from anti-vax protesters while entering and leaving the clinic. The protesters went so far as to shout that she was committing genocide and poisoning her son, and they yelled out false information about the vaccine in front of the seven-year-old child. Such behaviour must stop.
I know that the members of the House support the right to protest. However, we must all agree that this is neither the way nor the place to do it. It is totally unacceptable.
While I believe all Canadians accept that we have differences of opinion, very few Canadians accept this behaviour toward health workers and people who try to obtain health care services. While the charter protects the right to express opinions and conduct peaceful protests, it does not protect against violent forms of speech and activity. I am confident the bill reflects the rights and freedoms enshrined in the charter by ensuring that activity that is purely for the purposes of communicating a message and that remains peaceful is not criminalized.
We must ensure that every Canadian can safely get vaccinated, especially children who are now eligible for the vaccine. Every Canadian also deserves to have safe access to essential health services and not fear being attacked or intimidated as they make their way to a hospital or vaccination clinic. This bill is about federal leadership to ensure that our health care heroes can safely do their jobs, free from obstruction, intimidation and threats.
I would like to touch on another matter that is important to me and many in our country. We cannot forget the significant struggles and hardship that women have faced, both legally and practically, in accessing abortion services. Many of those challenges continue, as women encounter barriers in accessing abortion services, including aggressive, intimidating, disturbing and even violent anti-abortion protest activity. Abortion service providers and their families have also been subject to similar conduct in Canada during its history. The bill applies to health services in general and the amendments will support and protect women in making their decisions for their own bodies without obstruction, intimidation or fear.
The bill would also make it an offence to impede another person from accessing health care facilities. No one should be prevented from accessing health care.
I firmly believe that the Criminal Code amendments proposed in Bill C-3 are imperative to give protections to those who undertake to care for Canadians during their most dire time of need. There is no doubt that Bill C-3 proposes reforms that are carefully crafted and responsive to the harms facing the health sector in Canada.
For those reasons, I urge all members to support Bill C-3.