Madam Speaker, as I was saying, we have commended our health care workers through efforts such as the nightly banging of pots and honking of horns at 7 p.m. Health care workers have been true heroes working on the front lines tirelessly.
Calling health care workers heroes and commending their bravery, while entirely deserved, is not enough. We need to provide real protections for them.
The amendments to the Criminal Code in this bill would afford health care workers security against obstruction from accessing their workplaces safely. Unfortunately, we have seen terrible incidents where doctors, nurses and other health care practitioners have been intimidated, threatened and in some cases spat on or threatened with violence, all because they are saving the lives of COVID-19 patients.
I would like to take a moment to give my very personal perspective on this bill.
My wife is a doctor at a hospital that was declared a COVID hospital at the outset of the pandemic. During the first week of the pandemic, we updated our wills, not knowing what dangers we faced. We slept on different floors and took extra precautions to sanitize, when we could actually find disinfectant materials.
Some doctors moved out of their private homes to protect their families and moved into private accommodations. Many extra precautions were taken to launder clothes to make sure the virus did not come into our personal homes. Challenges continued wave after wave. Then throw in a heat dome and another wave, and we have a health care crisis and a system stretched to the breaking point relying on the goodwill and moral fibre of the people who work in the system.
I would like to thank my wife and her colleagues at Surrey Memorial Hospital and other hospitals across the country, the specialists and technicians, the nurses and the aides, the cleaning staff, food services and everyone else in patient care who all worked to keep the rest of us safe.
Now protestors are trying to threaten these workers and to prevent them from accessing their places of work. I feel especially for the emergency room doctors but also the paramedics, who are understaffed, underfunded and need to shepherd their patients past rabid anti-vaxxer protestors.
Our health care workers are facing moral distress. No one should feel unsafe at their workplace. This legislation would provide health care workers the confidence and legal protections needed to safely access their workplaces.
We know intimidation can also manifest through online forums as well, not just in person. We would be protecting health care workers here as well. In the age of social media and digital technology, we know online threats can be just as real and devastating as those faced in front of a workplace. No individual should be able to use fear to stop health care workers or those who assist them from performing their duties.
Our legislation would not only protect health care workers but those accessing health care as well. In many cases, those accessing health care are the most vulnerable, particularly during this pandemic. This summer, an individual went to Toronto from Prince Edward Island to wait for a lung transplant. They were leaving the hospital after a physiotherapy session. They had to be escorted by police to protect them from an unmasked group blocking access to and from the hospital. We have heard story after story of this kind of behaviour across the country. We cannot accept this behaviour, which is placing our most vulnerable at risk.
This legislation would clearly ensure Canadians have the freedom to voice their concerns and protest in a safe and peaceful manner. It would also ensures workers’ freedom to take labour action, including picketing. These would be respected by these proposed changes to Canada’s criminal law.
The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted a number of issues facing Canadians in their workplaces. Too many health care workers, those who assist them and Canadians seeking medical care have experienced or feared intimidation while attempting to provide or access health services.
In normal times this type of harassment and intimidation is disagreeable, but during a worldwide pandemic, this type of behaviour is abhorrent, which is why legislation is needed.
I will now shift my focus to another aspect of this bill.
Too many Canadians have been forced to choose between staying home when they are sick or being able to afford rent or groceries. This legislation's other change, which is the provision of 10 days of paid sick leave, would protect the well-being of Canadians, support them economically and avoid pressures on our health care system. While this would only apply to federally regulated workers numbering almost one million workers at this point, it would contribute to a wider discussion about paid sick leave across the country.
The pandemic has demonstrated the effect that illness can have on our economy and the cost for individuals and families. With isolations and quarantines lasting up to two weeks, workers need to know that if they contract COVID-19, they can take the necessary time off work without risking a loss to their income and without exposing others to the risks of COVID. Not only will this ensure that workers do not need to choose between their income and their well-being, but it will also avoid spreading COVID-19 or other contagious illnesses in the workplace. There have been too many stories of outbreaks in workplaces that happened because individuals felt they had to come into work because they could not afford to take unpaid time off. This often results in negative economic effects for companies as well.
Not only will this legislation help workers, but it will be a preventive measure for our health care system. We have all experienced lockdowns throughout the last 20 months to help our hospitals avoid being overwhelmed by COVID-19 cases. This is another measure to prevent the outbreaks in workplaces from driving up case numbers and putting our health care system at risk now and in the future.
For Canadians not employed in a federally regulated industry, our government will be engaging in consultations with federally regulated employers and workers on the implementation of this legislation. Additionally, the government will convene the provinces and territories and other interested stakeholders to develop a national action plan to legislate paid sick leave across the country, while respecting provincial and territorial jurisdiction and clearly recognizing the unique needs of small business owners. Ten days of paid sick leave is another tool in creating a more resilient economy as we emerge from the COVID-19 pandemic.
For all the reasons I have outlined in my speech today, I will be supporting this bill. I welcome any questions from my colleagues.