The Registered Nurses’ Association of Ontario (RNAO) condemns the racist and extremist behaviour that unfolded in Ottawa and led by far-right groups this weekend.
“Our association deeply believes in people’s rights to demonstrate peacefully and to express themselves in a democratic society. However, what we and Canadians right across this country are witnessing does not fall into that category,” says Dr. Doris Grinspun, RNAO’s CEO. “Instead, what we are witnessing is an event that started as a convoy of truckers but was hijacked by far-right groups using disinformation and preying on fears around a pandemic,” adds Grinspun.
RNAO urges all of us “to call out any and all racist symbols such as the Confederate flag and swastikas, and the wearing of yellow Stars of David, carried by some protesters. These are symbols of hatred against Black people, Indigenous people, Jewish people, Muslims and other communities targeted by white supremacists. Some protestors also danced on the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, and draped a statue of Terry Fox with an anti-vaccine mandate sign and an upside-down Canadian flag. These actions are ignorant and reprehensible, and authorities must not allow them to continue,” Grinspun says.
While most protesters have not engaged in hateful action, almost all demonstrated passivity and indifference toward the many instances of such events. In the words of the late Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel, ‘the opposite of love is not hate, it’s indifference.’ “If we do not call out hatred, it will spread,” adds Grinspun.
RNAO President Morgan Hoffarth echoes Grinspun, saying hate cannot and must not be tolerated. “These actions are also endangering Canadians. Masks and vaccines are essential tools in the struggle to regain some normalcy during this protracted pandemic. It is hugely irresponsible to continue to promote anti-mask and anti-vaccine misinformation that is feeding the fifth wave – a wave driven mostly by those who are unvaccinated and do not take precautions.”
Hoffarth says RNAO is also concerned that the occupation of downtown Ottawa has prevented local health-care workers from getting to and from their jobs. “Nurses had to work double shifts when their replacements were unable to arrive. There have also been reports that rocks were thrown at an ambulance and racial slurs uttered towards a paramedic. Health providers must be able to carry out their work free from abuse and intimidation. This is one more stressor on top of everything else they have been dealt. They are doing their utmost to care for people, in the name of science and the evidence we have to fight COVID-19.”
RNAO notes that protestors openly contravened the public health measures put in place to protect people’s health. Some protestors entered a homeless shelter demanding food while others walked into a downtown mall without masks. “This kind of behaviour is beyond insulting,” says Hoffarth. She implores people to “get vaccinated as soon as possible, including getting a third booster to make sure they can protect themselves, their families and friends.”
RNAO calls on politicians, community and faith leaders and everyone else who cares about a healthy and democratic society to condemn the reprehensible actions in Ottawa, and on police forces to put an immediate stop to them. “We are deeply upset with politicians who have been promoting the events in social media, who are minimizing the widespread expression of hate as the actions of ‘a few bad apples,’ and even meeting with them to cater to their most extreme supporters,” add Grinspun. RNAO supports a statement made on Monday, Jan. 31 by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in which he reminded Canadians that that they must remain true to their values, stand up for what is right and stand up for each other.
The Registered Nurses’ Association of Ontario (RNAO) is the professional association representing registered nurses, nurse practitioners and nursing students in Ontario. Since 1925, RNAO has advocated for healthy public policy, promoted excellence in nursing practice, increased nurses’ contribution to shaping the health system, and influenced decisions that affect nurses and the public we serve. For more information about RNAO, visit RNAO.ca or follow us on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.