N.S. introduces legislation creating 'bubble zone' outside hospitals from COVID protesters

WATCH: Nova Scotia is introducing legislation to protect health-care providers and patients from protests held outside health-care facilities. Jesse Thomas reports.

Nova Scotia is introducing legislation to protect health-care providers and patients from protests held outside health-care facilities.

The move was prompted by a string of protests outside hospitals in the country, including in Halifax in September, against COVID-19 measures.

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The Protecting Access to Health Services Act was introduced Thursday, and will prohibit protests “and other disruptive activities” at hospitals, mental-health facilities, home-care services, long-term care services, clinics, doctors’ offices and pharmacies.

The legislation establishes a 50-metre “safe-access bubble zone.”

Peaceful protests can occur outside that perimeter, the province notes.

“Health-care workers have disproportionately been through a lot with the pandemic,” Premier Tim Houston told reporters.

“This is all designed to make sure that our health-care professionals know that their government supports them in having a safe and healthy workplace.”

The premier added that while people have a right to protest, they can’t be allowed to disrupt access to health care.

“There are places where (protesting) should be done and there are places where that should not be done,” he said.

This legislation will come into force when it receives royal assent. The province notes that the legislation is not limited to the current state of emergency, which came into effect in March 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Liberal Leader Iain Rankin and NDP Leader Gary Burrill both expressed support for the idea behind the legislation, but they said they needed to evaluate the bill further before staking a position.

However, both said they wouldn’t support a law that would also prohibit health workers from setting up union pickets during labour disputes.

“People have a right to collective bargaining and a right to protest, and I think that is foundational to our democracy,” Rankin told reporters.

A similar bill was passed in March 2020 — the Protecting Access to Reproductive Health Care Act — which prohibits protests at abortion services clinics.

The province notes that penalties for this new act will be similar to that one.

A first offence for an individual carries a fine up to $5,000 and/or six-months in prison. A second offence carries a fine between $1,000 and $10,000, as well as the possibility of a year in prison.

A corporation could be fined up to $25,000 for a first offence, and up to $100,000 for subsequent offences.

Quebec has adopted a law banning COVID-19-related protests outside schools and hospitals, while Alberta recently announced it was adding hospitals, clinics and other health-care facilities to a list of essential infrastructure protected under an anti-blockade law.

–with files from The Canadian Press

© 2021 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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