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News release
Nov. 24, 2021

Doctors call for end to rising bullying and attacks in-person and online

TORONTO, Nov. 24, 2021 — Doctors are calling for an end to the bullying, attacks and threats of violence many on health care’s front lines have been subjected to throughout the pandemic, and which have escalated to new levels as vaccine mandates are being enforced and shots have been available to children.

“At the Ontario Medical Association, we strongly condemn threatening or bullying behaviour toward physicians and others who are trying to keep us all safe,” Dr. Adam Kassam, OMA president and a Toronto physiatrist, said at the Ask Ontario’s Doctors: Respecting health care’s front lines media briefing held today by the Ontario Medical Association.

“And, we have joined with doctors across Canada in calling for the bullying, attacks and violence against health workers to stop. No matter what the reason behind the abuse, none of it is right. And none of it is acceptable.”

Doctors are reporting that the opening of COVID-19 vaccinations for children ages five to 11 has sparked increased anger among some people.

Public health units across Ontario have been advised to have a police presence or nearby availability at all pediatric clinics, said Dr. Paul Roumeliotis, who is a pediatrician and Medical Officer of Health and CEO of the Eastern Ontario Health Unit. He is also president of the Association of Local Public Health Agencies. 

The Canadian Medical Association is calling for safe zones around hospitals and other health settings where patients seek the care they need and where health-care professionals work.

It has called for amendments to the Criminal Code that would make it a criminal offence to threaten or harassment health workers physically or online.

“At the CMA, we’re asking for the federal government to make good on their promise to enact legislation to specifically protect health-care workers from violence and harassment both in person and online,” said Dr. Katherine Smart, president of the Canadian Medical Association and a pediatrician in Whitehorse, Yukon.

“We’ve also reached out to social media platforms to let them know we do not feel the platforms right now are adequate from a safety perspective in terms of ensuring that this type of violence isn’t propagated.”

Dr. Smart said it’s also unacceptable that physicians and patients are being harassed as they make their way into hospitals. She said inside hospitals, some patients who have the deadly virus are being abusive to health-care workers as they receive their diagnosis.

“We’re seeing protests outside hospitals ... and then violent behaviour inside hospitals as people very sick, often with COVID, are refusing to believe that’s what’s going on and lashing out against the health-care providers trying to help them.”

Dr. Jennifer Kwan, a family physician in Burlington, Ont., and a health-care advocate with an online presence, said the abuse directed at her has been “hateful, sexist and racist.”

“I did not expect that asking people to wear masks during a pandemic would be so divisive and controversial,” she said.

Doctors described how the public backlash is contributing to burnout among physicians and other health-care workers, which was already on the rise as a result of the pandemic’s pressures.

About the OMA

The Ontario Medical Association represents Ontario’s 43,000 plus physicians, medical students and retired physicians, advocating for and supporting doctors while strengthening the leadership role of doctors in caring for patients. Our vision is to be the trusted voice in transforming Ontario’s health-care system.