A backbench member of Manitoba’s governing Progressive Conservatives is proposing new limits on protests outside hospitals, clinics and schools.
Shannon Martin introduced a bill in the legislature Tuesday that would create “access zones” of between 50 and 150 metres around schools, hospitals and other areas where health care is provided.
If the bill becomes law, people could be fined or jailed for trying to prevent people in those zones from accessing health services. They would also be penalized for harassing health-care providers, either in-person or online.
“We need to ensure … that any individual accessing legal services or providing legal medical services are protected from harassment or dissuasion,” Martin said.
Bills put forward by backbench members or Opposition politicians – called private members’ bills – can only become law with government support. Most do not get it, but Martin said he is optimistic his will.
Government house leader Kelvin Goertzen offered no guarantees.
“Like all the bills that come forward, you’ll have to wait and see,” he said, adding that there is limited time set aside to debate private members’ bills before the legislature rises in November.
The Opposition New Democrats have put forward similar bills in the past without success, aimed primarily at people opposed to abortion and COVID-19 restrictions, but Martin said his is better because it would cover more facilities.
The bill protects the right to protest and only prevents actions that interfere with the provision of health services or harass and intimidate providers, he said.
The New Democrats said their bills were better because they also established buffer zones around the homes of health-care providers. That concern, Martin said, is covered by his proposed ban on harassment.
The NDP also questioned whether the Tories were serious about the issue.
“It’s telling that the premier and her cabinet wouldn’t sponsor this bill,” NDP justice critic Nahanni Fontaine said. “This bill is just for show.”
Similar restrictions have already been implemented in some other provinces. Ontario adopted a law in 2018 that banned protests within 50 metres of an abortion clinic.
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