Upwards of a thousand people turned out to Kelowna General Hospital for a protest against vaccine passports on Wednesday afternoon.
The protest in Kelowna is one of several taking place across the country, including in Kamloops.
“We believe that the ability to move freely in society without being surveilled is a basic human right. The introduction of a QR system that requires user scan before entry would violate this privacy,” said one of the protest organizers in a document distributed to the media prior to the event.
B.C.’s vaccine passport system rolls out on Sept. 13 and will require proof of at least one dose of the vaccine to enter a wide variety of non-essential businesses.
“This is a big encroachment on our freedom that leads to them to being able to take more steps. Sure this is one thing and we want to protect everyone, but if you do this, where are you going to stop?” said a protester, Nicole, to Castanet.
Most protesters were unwilling to speak on the record or on camera.
The location of the protest outside Kelowna General Hospital, which houses the region’s COVID-19 unit and has experienced massive staffing struggles and burnout in recent months, has drawn condemnation from elected and health officials.
“I think anybody who feels the need to protest at a hospital, and put further stress on our health care workers is completely disrespectful and unjustified,” Kelowna mayor Colin Basran said. “These healthcare workers have not made any of the decisions or restrictions that have been placed upon us.”
Basran said he admires how healthcare workers have been encouraging people to get vaccinated and called the protests “completely misguided.”
“It just speaks to the level of intellect of those involved because they clearly don’t understand who’s making the decisions, but it’s not Kelowna city council or health care workers.”
"I am very supportive of our health care workers and all that they are going through, and seeing how difficult the circumstances are in which they are working, keeping those alive who have contracted COVID, most of them not vaccinated," the mayor added.
While watching the protest, a pharmacy technician at KGH called the situation "crazy."
"I mean I want to stop wearing a mask, but when it’s like this I don’t know. We have some COVID patients at the hospital, I just don’t get this," said the employee, who Castanet has granted anonymity to.
Liberal MLA for Penticton Dan Ashton said on Twitter that he is "greatly disappointed that a hospital" would be targeted with a protest.
"My sincere thanks to all of those who work in our hospitals during these challenging times," Ashton tweeted.
Local Conservative MP Dan Albas also condemned the location of the protest.
"The caring people who work in this hospital have been run off their feet. It is well known the COVID ward is beyond capacity. The people who work in healthcare during this pandemic deserve our gratitude and support. This protest should have been held elsewhere," Albas tweeted.
MLA for Kelowna-Mission and BC Liberal health critic Renee Merrifield said "health care professionals and first responders do not deserve this protest."
"If you have a problem with a decision taken by the provincial government, protest in front of my office. Leave our nurses and doctors alone," she tweeted.
The Kelowna RCMP issued a statement advising drivers of traffic issues due to the protest.
"Drivers are advised to take an alternative route to avoid unnecessary delays if possible."