Opinion

‘We will not hide out of fear’: Open letter speaks out against harassment

It has been the longest two years of most of our lives as health-care professionals. We are not heroes. We are not villains. We are exhausted doctors, nurses, personal support workers, respiratory therapists and social workers.

We want the pandemic to be over just as the public does. We are doing everything we can to take care of our patients, advocating for use of all the tools we have – vaccines, better masks, better ventilation in schools, curbing our activities – to get there.

We want our children to be in school, businesses to be open; for life not to be dictated by a virus that is threatening the world. But there are still many people in Canada who are vulnerable. They deserve protection. Infants, young children, disabled people, elderly or immunocompromised people, people who work in high-risk jobs. We will not abandon them. Globally, we also have a responsibility to ensure that safety is not a privilege but a right for every person. This includes urgently improving access to vaccines globally.

Those of us who have been the recipients of harassment and intimidation over the past two years – who have experienced the overlap between antivaxx/antimask rhetoric and antisemitism, racism, homophobia, misogyny – were overcome by a sense of foreboding as trucks rolled into downtown Ottawa. The siege that has taken place in Ottawa, the hate-fuelled convoy that has spread to the rest of Canada, is a warning to us all.

Health-care workers in Toronto and Vancouver were warned not to dress in scrubs in the streets to avoid being targets for hate. In response, Lisa Salamon-Switzman, an emergency physician in Toronto, posted on Twitter that she would wear her scrubs; that as a granddaughter of Holocaust survivors she would not cower from those espousing hate.

Salamon-Switzman’s words struck a chord with me. I am also a granddaughter of Holocaust survivors, and I received an antisemitic death threat last year, targeted because I have immunized more than 12,000 people in Ottawa.

Our message is simple: We will not allow disinformation to undermine science, nor will we allow hate to besiege our streets.

Physicians and other health-care workers have been subject to harassment and intimidation for doing the work that we do, for taking care of the community. In response to everything that has transpired locally and across the country, I wrote an open letter, on behalf of physicians, nurses, health-care workers and public health scholars across the country, to assert that we will not hide out of fear of violence from hate-fueled convoys.

That letter has been signed by the President, President-Elect and Past-President of the Canadian Medical Association; by the President of the Registered Nurses Association of Ontario; and by many prominent health-care advocates across Canada. We have more than 2,000 signatories to our letter.

We appeal to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, to each of our premiers, to the mayors of all cities, to elected provincial and federal officials, to all community leaders, to all business owners and heads of organizations – and to all Canadians – to have our backs.

Our message is simple: We will not allow disinformation to undermine science, nor will we allow hate to besiege our streets.

Thank you to all who have worked so hard throughout the pandemic, who have advocated for your patients and communities. Thank you to those who have signed our open letter. Your voices, speaking up against hate, matter.

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Authors

Nili Kaplan-Myrth

Contributor

Dr. Nili Kaplan-Myrth, MD, CCFP, PhD, is a family physician in Ottawa who writes about health policy and politics.

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