A North Bay, Ont., mother said there needs to be more protection for families at children’s COVID-19 vaccination clinics, following reported harassment this past weekend.
Abby Blaszczyk attended a vaccination clinic on Nov. 28 with her son Nolan, 7, who recently became eligible for a COVID-19 shot.
On their way in and out of the appointment, Blaszczyk said they faced a torrent of verbal harassment from anti-vaccine demonstrators.
They told me I … was murdering my son, I was committing genocide, stuff like that. – Abby Blaszczyk
Blaszczyk said it was a disturbing experience for her mother and four-year-old daughter, who both came to support Nolan as he got his shot.
“They told me I … was murdering my son, I was committing genocide, stuff like that. And then, just misinformation about the vaccine itself,” she said
She said she was shocked by the display, especially because she did not face any similar demonstrations when she got her own shots at adult clinics earlier in the year. Blaszczyk said she’s heard from several families who had the same experience at the clinic.
“I just wanted to protect my son and my daughter and get out of there as fast as I could,” she said.
Workers at the clinic, held at One Kids Place, told Blaszczyk that they didn’t see anyone while they were setting up earlier, she said. At the time, Blaszczyk said there was no police or security presence at the clinic, but when a friend attended three hours later there was a single police car on site.
She said police should have been on site all day, considering the demonstrators’ reported behaviour.
“The things they were shouting were verbal assault. It was assault, it was harassment and it was intimidation; it was not a protest,” she said.
North Bay Police confirmed the force is investigating an incident at the children’s vaccination clinic, saying it will issue a press release on Nov. 30.
“The NBPS respects individual rights to peacefully protest but cannot tolerate any interference with people’s right to safety when attending one of the clinics. We will be providing an increased police presence in the area of the clinics and if the protest escalates to criminal behaviour, we will not hesitate to take enforcement action,” said Insp. Jeff Warner in an emailed statement.
Difficult conversations with children
Blaszczyk said she had to have difficult conversations with her children about the behaviour they witnessed. She said she is worried that her son may have difficulties with immunizations in the future based on the experience that day.
“I just will keep talking with him about it as best as we can. Just explaining that these people are just harassers, they’re intimidators of small, scared children who are just trying to seek health care,” she said.
North Bay Mayor Al McDonald said he supports the democratic right to protest, but the behaviour at this clinic was absolutely unacceptable. He said he encourages people to follow medical advice and get vaccinated, but for those who insist on protesting, to do it in an appropriate manner.
“Come and protest at city hall, make as much as much noise as you possibly can. But there’s no need to harass or, you know, shout obscenities at grandparents or parents or the families that are there just trying to do what’s best for their kids,” McDonald said.
He said it’s important for people to seek medical guidance and accurate information about vaccinations, and that he expects to see a security presence at future vaccination clinics. When CBC News spoke with the mayor, he had not yet spoken with North Bay Police for a debrief of the incident.
Nipissing MPP Vic Fedeli said in a statement there are already laws in place to protect individuals from intimidation and harassment when they get vaccinated.
“It is already a criminal offence to threaten and intimidate people and police have the power to break up demonstrations,” Fedeli said.
He said that any kind of harassment targeting patients or health-care workers is “disgusting and completely unacceptable.”
The North Bay Parry Sound District Health Unit said vaccination is the best way to protect people from COVID-19 and people need to respect those who have made the informed choice to be vaccinated.
“The health unit recognizes the right to peaceful demonstration, however, intimidation and harassment of young children and their families attending vaccine clinics are unacceptable forms of protest. The health unit is working closely with local police and security firms to increase safeguards for both clients and staff,” it said in a statement.
The health unit did not answer a follow-up question before publication time about why security was not on site throughout the clinic.