Protest law amended to better protect Dr. Robert Strang, health workers in NS

Members of the Nova Scotia Legislature unanimously agreed to fast-track a bill introduced Thursday afternoon that will outlaw protests close to the homes of health workers and officials in a decision-making health roles.

The lieutenant-governor signed the bill later in the day, amending the Protecting Access to Health Services Act to create a 50-metre “safe zone” around the homes.

Nova Scotia Justice Minister Brad Johns said a video posted by a protesters this week outside the Fall River, NS, home of Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Robert Strang spurred him to ask his staff to draft an amendment to the law passed in the fall .

“It became apparent somebody had to do something,” Johns told reporters during a bill briefing at Province House Thursday. He said the move was initiated by the Department of Justice, not Strang.

Police this week charged Jeremy Mitchell MacKenzie, 36, and Morgan May Guptill, 31, with criminal harassment, mischief, harassing phone calls and intimidation of a health professional, following three days of protests outside Strang’s home. They are scheduled to appear in short Friday.

Nova Scotia Justice Minister Brad Johns is shown during a news conference in Halifax on Thursday. (Michael Gorman/CBC)

Under the amendment, protests will be outlawed within the 50-metre “bubbles.” Violators will face fines that range from $5,000 to $100,000. Hospitals, clinics and other health facilities are currently protected by the law.

“People cannot be allowed to stalk others outside of their homes,” said Johns. “Not only are our health-service providers being threatened, harassed and bullied, but so are those who they share a home with, their wives, their children, their husbands, or their significant others.

“They and their loved ones deserve to be protected. It’s very un-Nova Scotian.”

Turning a bill into law in just a few hours, with almost no debate, is very rare, but Johns defended the move as necessary to safeguard Strang and his family.

“Considering the fact that a number of people showed up three days in a row, I felt it was important to get it passed through so it can take effect immediately,” Johns told reporters after the bill passed third and final reading during the first day of the spring sitting.

Opposition on board

Johns said he has no qualifications about bypassing the law amendments committee, the part of the law-making process where the public gets its say on proposed legislation.

“I think that the general public will not have an issue with these amendments,” he said. “I would think most people would be very supportive of it and understand it.

“I have no issues with that.”

Neither did Liberal Party Leader Iain Rankin.

“Not in this case,” said Rankin. “In this case it’s about safety and if we can prevent people from getting hurt or taking action that they shouldn’t, we should do that as soon as possible.”

NDP House leader Claudia Chender expressed a similar view.

“I think in this case we were convinced that this bill was required in an expedient manner and that there were active threats being made to officials and that, you know, there was a feeling that there was stronger legislation required to be able to deal with that and keep people safe,” said Chender.

She did say that if extending the protective bubbles to thousands of health-care workers has unintended consequences, her party would push the Houston government to make the changes necessary to fix the problem.

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