Access to critical services that British Columbians rely on will be maintained thanks to new legislation by the provincial government.
The new rules move to prevent disruptive behaviour from affecting schools and healthcare facilities during the pandemic.
“Over the last few months, we’ve seen a small number of people protesting against COVID-19 protective measures by blocking access to healthcare facilities and schools,” said Premier John Horgan.
“While everyone has a right to protest, interfering with patients accessing hospital care or with kids trying to get to school is completely unacceptable. This legislation will help to keep these important facilities secure and ensure the safety of both those who use them and those who work in them.”
The proposed legislation will protect hospitals, COVID-19 test and vaccination centres, and K-12 schools by establishing 20-metre (66 feet) access zones around them.
Within the space, it will be an offence to impede access to the facility, disrupt services or act in a way that could reasonably be expected to cause service users or providers concern for their physical or mental safety.
“The pandemic has been incredibly stressful for all British Columbians, and we don’t need added pressure on key workers who are already under significant strain due to the impact of COVID-19,” said David Eby, Attorney General.
“Free speech is an important right, but there is no right to intimidate already stressed and pressured health-care workers, patients, students, teachers and staff. This bill establishes vital safeguards for our heroic essential service providers so they can do their jobs for all of us.”
The act will give police the power to arrest or issue tickets to anyone impeding access to a facility, disrupting services or intimidating or attempting to intimidate an individual within access zones.
In addition, courts will be able to issue an injunction to prevent people from contravening the act.
The act will provide protection until July 1, 2023, though it may be repealed earlier if no longer required.