February 14, 2022

From heroes to hated: Health-care workers sign open letter slamming abuse – National | Globalnews.ca

When COVID-19 first gripped the nation, people stepped out of their homes to clang pots and pans in a show of support for health-care workers. A pair of designer shoes were named after B.C.’s top doctor. Businesses and citizens sent free food to hospitals.

But on Monday, when Dr. Nili Kaplan-Myrth walked into her office, she had a different kind message waiting on her answering machine.

“You’re a lying a– c—,” said the voicemail, which was left on the phone at her family health practice in Ottawa over the weekend.

“I bet you love doing abortions, that’s why you’ve got a hyphen in your name, couldn’t even take take your f— husband’s last name. I’m sure of it. Another f—— extreme leftist, freakin’ extreme feminist c– who is just trying to destroy the world. Those people are fighting for your freedoms too, you dumb c—.”

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Kaplan-Myrth said she wasn’t even sure if it was worth reporting to the police. She’s gotten death threats in the past, and when she reported it, she felt the police “didn’t care.”

“The line has been crossed so many times,” she said.

She’s not alone. Across Canada, in response to rising anger aimed at health-care workers, hospitals have privately told employees to take extra precautions.

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Personal support workers in Ottawa were sent an email on Saturday from their employer offering them “a refuge” or a “safe room” in the downtown core. The email, obtained by Global News, explained that a downtown hotel was providing “health care and other essential workers” with a “safe space” they can use, as an anti-mandate protest clogs downtown Ottawa streets.

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Staff at Vancouver hospitals were also being warned to take precautions on Friday, ahead of a planned protest against COVID-19 mandates. In a memo emailed to all Vancouver acute and medical staff, Vancouver Coastal Health said the route for Saturday’s protest was expected to take it past multiple hospitals.

Health-care workers were urged to stay indoors during the convoy, not to engage with any protesters they encounter and to “refrain from wearing scrubs and/or your ID badge outside of the hospital during the demonstration.”

In another email obtained by Global News, health-care workers in Toronto were told to wear “street clothes” on their way to work, “not clothing which identifies you as a healthcare worker.”

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That’s why Kaplan-Myrth decided to put pen to paper and call out the harassment and hatred health-care workers have faced. So far, that open letter has garnered at least 1,600 signatures from professionals who brush up against health in their work — doctors, nurses, dentists, social workers, and more, she said.

The message from the letter, she said, is to “say to the Canadian public that this isn’t OK.”

“We, the undersigned physicians, nurses, healthcare workers, and public health scholars across the country, will NOT hide out of fear of violence from hate-fueled convoys,” the letter reads.

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“We will not cower. We will not hide. We will wear our scrubs in public, without fear, knowing that you — Canadians — have our backs.”

Dr. Amit Arya, a palliative care physician, has experienced the vitriol health-care workers can face first-hand. His name is one of the 1,600 supporting Kaplan-Myrth’s open letter.

“I’ve gotten death threats, and people have also tried to contact my office, here in the hospital, asking and demanding to speak to me immediately because they disagree that vaccinations (are) safe and very effective,” Arya said.

“I faced a lot of harassment. Of course, a lot of this harassment is racist in its tones.”

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The threats are beginning to affect his daily life. Arya said he feels uneasy at times, no matter where he is.

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“Even when I’m at home and I go for a walk with my dog, there are times when I do look over my shoulder and I’m worried,” he said.

“I have a family, of course, and they’re worried as well. And once again, many of us are in this scenario simply because we’re trying to advocate to protect the vulnerable.”

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To stem the tide of hatred, Arya said he thinks more needs to be done to “combat misinformation.”

Kaplan-Myrth added that it would be helpful if leaders — regardless of political stripe — could commit to keeping health-care workers safe as they work in their communities.

“This isn’t about partisan politics. It is about ensuring that we are safe while we care for you. That is all we ask,” she wrote in the open letter.

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The government took some steps towards tackling the issue in late 2021, when they passed a new law to single out health-care workers for special protection from intimidation and threats at work.

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Health Minister Jean-Yves Duclos said on Friday that the law put in place “severe criminal sanctions for those that are intimidating and threatening health-care workers.”

However, Kaplan-Myrth said the legislation isn’t making much of a difference.

“The notion that doctors should have to seek refuge from harassment and intimidation really flies in the face of the idea that people are supposed to be held accountable for for their actions if they are intimidating or harassing us,” she said.

“That is illegal. It’s just the police have to enforce the law.”

© 2022 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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