Lawmakers said they are tired of anti-vaccine protesters intimidating students and hindering access to hospitals while hosting their demonstrations.
Outrage at Anti-Vaccine Demonstrations
Quebec lawmakers introduced legislation on Thursday that would regulate where anti-vaccine protesters can hold demonstrations.
While there have been large anti-vax protests across Quebec, small protests at schools and hospitals have specifically triggered concern. Though such protests typically feature about a dozen people, there have been reports of demonstrators harassing students and blocking access to hospitals when gathering at these locations.
Legislation aimed at addressing the issue has been in discussion for weeks. Following reports of these types of gatherings Tuesday, Premier Francois Legault said, “I cannot accept to have anti-vaccine people in front of our schools and hospitals. So I will use whatever is necessary to stop that.”
Prior to Legault’s comments, Education Minister Jean-F. Roberge tweeted out his own outrage at an anti-vaccine protest in front of a high school in Louis-Riel.
“I am appalled by these demonstrators who have used the tragic death of a young girl to fuel disinformation,” he wrote. “It is an irresponsible gesture and I offer my condolences to the relatives of the victim and to the school staff.”
Fifty Meter Standard
If approved, the new legislation would ban all forms of protests within 50 meters of a school, hospital, or daycare.
Police would be allowed to levy a $10,000 fine to anyone protesting at one of these locations depending on their demeanor. If the protests are related specifically to COVID-19 health regulations or vaccines, another fine of up to $6,000 can be added. Protesters intimidating someone, which is open to interpretation, can face another $10,000 fine.
The bill would also ban inciting or encouraging protests, including through posts on online platforms such as Facebook, where many protests are organized.
All of Quebec’s major parties said they support the bill, but it could still be held up by a single vote from Claire Samson. The conservative lawmaker broke with her party over concerns that the provisions don’t have an expiration date, despite them applying to more than just protests over COVID-19 regulations.
Some experts have argued that the new proposal is unnecessary since the government and police already have unenforced laws on the books to crack down on unruly protesters. However, the largest concerns regarding the legislation stem from its constitutionality.
Many on the right claim that such provisions limit the freedom of speech and assembly, both of which are explicitly allowed in Canada in various forms.
Still, while Canada has the freedom of speech and assembly just like the United States, it also has what American legal analysts call “time, place, and manner” restrictions.
As Pearl Eliadis, a human rights lawyer who teaches at McGill University in Montreal explained to Global News, “The issue is not really freedom of expression. No one’s telling them they can’t say stuff. It’s just where they’re saying it.”
“I think there’s a strong argument to be made that children, in particular minor children, should not in any way be intimidated or frightened for going to school,” Eliadis added.
“If you’re a patient going into a facility, or trying to get into a facility, and you’ve been intimidated or frightened, your right to access has been diminished.”
Similar laws in Canada have already withstood legal scrutiny. In 2016, Quebec banned demonstrations within 50 meters of an abortion clinic. Since then, other provinces have introduced their own bans on protests near abortion clinics. Alberta has its own spin on such regulations against people protesting energy and oil companies. Quebec’s proposal also has the possibility of inspiring national legislation. While campaigning in the recent federal election, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau also promised legislation to restrict protests in front of schools and hospitals.
The proposals, according to proponents, are meant to protect students and those seeking medical care from unnecessary harassment by individuals who are likely unvaccinated in the midst of a pandemic.
See what others are saying: (Global News) (CTV) (La Presse)
200 Children Seeking Asylum in the U.K. Are Missing
The missing include at least 13 children under the age of 16.
Children Missing From Hotels
There are 200 asylum-seeking children missing from government care in the United Kingdom according to the parliamentary undersecretary of state at the Home Office.
When children are seeking asylum in the U.K. alone or separated from their parents, the government puts them up in hotel rooms for temporary accommodation. They have done so since 2021 and have temporarily accommodated 4,600 children in that time. However, Simon Murray, the parliamentary undersecretary of state at the Home Office, said that 200 of the children placed in those hotels are missing, including at least 13 who are under the age of 16.
In response to this information, a collection of more than 100 charities sent a letter to the Prime Minister demanding the end of the procedure of placing kids in hotels over safety concerns. The letter says that these children are at risk of trafficking and exploitation by staying in these hotels alone.
Other officials have echoed these concerns, claiming these hotels are targets for organized crime where people use these vulnerable children for labor or trafficking.
Parliament Calls Incident “Horrific”
Murray told the House of Lords on Monday that despite the media reports, his department does not know of any kidnapping cases, though they are investigating. He went on to say there are many reasons why children go missing.
However, lawmakers were not appeased by Murray’s assurances. In a later debate, one member of Parliament called the missing cases “horrific” and another said that it was “putting children at risk.” The children’s commissioner for England also reportedly chimed in asking for, quote “assurances on the steps being taken to safeguard the children.”
Murray went on to say that the use of hotels for asylum-seeking children will hopefully be phased out as soon as possible but did not give a timeline.
The nonprofit Refugee Council called on the government in a tweet to spare no expense in the location of these missing kids.
See what others are saying: (Washington Post) (The Guardian) (The Telegraph)
100,000 U.K. Nurses Launch Biggest Strike in NHS History
Opposition leader Keir Starmer called the strike “a badge of shame on this government.”
The NHS Grinds to a Halt
Some 100,000 members of the Royal College of Nursing (RCN), the United Kingdom’s largest nursing union, launched a historic 12-hour strike Thursday after the government refused to negotiate on higher pay.
The work stoppage, which spans England, Wales, and Northern Ireland, is only the second in the RCN’s 106-year history and the largest the NHS has ever seen. It marks the breaking point for many underpaid nurses and the culmination of a years-long decline in the NHS’s quality of care, put under increasing stress by severe staffing shortages.
Although most NHS staff in England and Wales received a pay rise of around £1,400 this year, worth about 4% on average for nurses, they say it has not kept up with inflation as Britain plunges deeper into a cost-of-living crisis.
When inflation is accounted for, nurses’ pay dropped 1.2% every year from 2010 to 2017, according to the Health Foundation.
Meanwhile, the number of patients waiting for care has reached a record 7.2 million in England, or over one in eight residents, more than double what it was seven years ago.
In July, the cross-party Commons Health and Social Care Select Committee estimated the staffing shortfall could be as high as 50,000 nurses and 12,000 doctors, what one MP called the “greatest workforce crisis in history.”
Many nurses argue that boosting pay will help hospitals recruit more staff.
The RCN demanded a pay raise 5% above the retail rate of inflation, which amounts to a 19% increase, but both Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and the government’s health secretary have claimed that’s not affordable.
During Thursday’s strike, partial staffing continued to remain open for urgent care such as chemotherapy, kidney dialysis, and children’s accident and neonatal units.
Sunak and Starmer Brawl in Parliament
Labor leader Keir Starmer grilled Sunak during Wednesday’s Prime Minister’s Questions (PMQs) on the upcoming strike.
“Tomorrow will be the first-ever nationwide nurse’s strike,” he said. “All the Prime Minister has to do to stop that is to open the door and discuss pay with them. If he did, the whole country would breathe a sigh of relief. Why won’t he?”
“We have consistently spoken to all the unions involved in all the pay disputes that there are,” Sunak replied. “Last year, when everyone else in the public sector had a public sector pay freeze, the nurses received a three-percent pay rise.”
Starmer fired back: “Nurses going on strike is a badge of shame for this government. Instead of showing leadership, he’s playing games with people’s health.”
Sunak called Starmer’s demand that he reopen negotiations with the RCN “just simply a political formula for avoiding taking a position on this issue.”
“If he thinks the strikes are wrong, he should say so,” Sunak said. “If he thinks it’s right that pay demands of nineteen percent are met, then he should say so. What’s weak, Mr. Speaker, is he’s not strong enough to stand up to the union.”
While Starmer has called on Sunak to negotiate with the RCN, he has not explicitly backed the 19% pay raise himself.
Unless the government returns to the bargaining table, the RCN plans to launch a second round of strikes on Dec. 20 to be followed by ambulance strikes that Wednesday and the next.
If the government still refuses to budge, the union said in a statement that nurses will strike for longer periods in more places starting in January, disrupting more health services.
Other industries are also set to see work stoppages this month, including workers on railways, buses, highways, and borders, as well as teachers, postal workers, baggage handlers, and paramedics.
See what others are saying: (BBC) (CNN) (The Guardian)
Fortnite Developer Sued By Parents for Making the Game as “Addictive as Possible”
One child mentioned in the lawsuit played over 7,700 rounds of Fortnite in two years.
Epic Games Sued
A Quebec City judge recently approved a 2019 class-action lawsuit accusing Fortnite developer Epic Games of deliberately making Fortnite addictive.
The parents who brought forward the lawsuit claim their children have become so obsessed with the game that in some cases, they’ve stopped eating, showering, or socializing. The lawsuit claims that these kids have played thousands of games since Fortnite’s release in 2017. In one example, a teenager played over 7,700 games in less than two years.
If the lawsuit succeeds, players addicted to Fortnite living in Quebec since September 2017 could receive compensation. The plaintiff’s attorney, Philippe Caron, reports that over 200 parents outside the lawsuit have reached out to him, saying their child’s well-being has diminished since downloading Fortnite. He told The Washington Post that they are very confident about their case.
Epic Games Responds
“We plan to fight this in court,” Natalie Munoz, a spokesperson for Epic Games said to The Post, “We believe the evidence will show that this case is meritless.”
Munoz also said that Fortnite does allow parents to supervise their child’s playtime and require permission for purchases.
The parents involved in the lawsuit are claiming that they were not aware of the dangers playing Fortnite could pose for their children.
“If she had been informed by the defendants of the risks and dangers associated with the use of FORTNITE,” the lawsuit says of one guardian. “She would have categorically refused to allow the game to be downloaded.”