Anti-vaccine protesters descended on downtown Toronto Thursday, congregating in front of Toronto police service headquarters to protest against a coming vaccine mandate for the force.
The demonstration marks the second time in as many days that anti-vaccine protesters have blocked streets and gathered, most of them not wearing masks, and shared misinformation about the safety of the COVID-19 vaccine.
The police service said last month that it will require vaccinations for all uniformed officers and civilian employees.
Although the Toronto Police Association, or police union, has said it is against the policy, it has confirmed to the Star that was not involved in organizing the protest.
“We wish to advise that the Toronto Police Association is not involved in this protest and does not support this event in any way,” said Jon Reid, TPA president. “We have no further information to provide about this protest, except to emphasize that the TPA has no association (or) affiliation with the event, or the individuals involved.”
The Star observed a large congregation of protesters, who chanted “my body my choice,” a rally cry typically associated with the women’s rights and pro-choice movements, and “just say no,” a slogan used by former U.S. first lady Nancy Reagan for her anti-drugs campaign.
The protest snaked around the city’s core between Bay and Yonge Sts., occasionally blocking traffic.
Some in attendance carried signs arguing against Ontario’s vaccine certificate, which comes into effect Sept. 22 and makes full vaccination mandatory for people hoping to access indoor dining, nightclubs, cinemas and other high-risk venues.
Others held signs depicting Bill Gates, a reference to a baseless conspiracy theory that purports the billionaire philanthropist is using the vaccine to embed people with a microchip.
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Among the signs carried were an American flag; a flag reading “don’t tread on me,” associated with the U.S. libertarian movement; and both a Canadian and American flag altered to depict the “thin blue line,” a controversial symbol often worn to show solidarity with police and frequently associated with hate groups.
Wednesday’s protest blocked “hospital row” at University Avenue at College Street, the location of Toronto General and Mt. Sinai Hospitals and Princess Margaret Cancer Centre.
Dr. Indy Sahota, who shared a video to Twitter depicting Wednesday’s protest on University Avenue, said it added “insult to injury” for frontline workers exhausted by a fourth wave of the pandemic that is largely spreading through Ontario’s unvaccinated population.
Sahota said the strain on the province’s health system will continue for years without some reprieve from the virus. Meanwhile, staff are burnt out and skilled nurses are leaving their jobs, he said.
Sahota urged the protesters to get vaccinated.
University Health Network, which operates both Toronto General and Princess Margaret, has mandated vaccinations for staff. Those who are not vaccinated must complete rapid COVID-19 home test kits three times weekly.
The protest was said to be linked to healthcare workers opposed to mandatory vaccination. Both the Ontario Nurses Association and the Registered Nurses Association of Ontario confirmed to the Star that they were not involved with it.
—with files from Anushka Yadav
Jenna Moon is a breaking news reporter for the Star and is based in Toronto. Follow her on Twitter: @_jennamoon
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