Backgrounder: Amendments to the Criminal Code to protect health care workers and people seeking access to health services
On November 26, 2021, the Government of Canada introduced amendments to the Criminal Code to enhance protections for health care workers and ensure everyone has safe and unobstructed access to health care.
Health care workers have long faced difficult working conditions, including violence and threats of violence in the workplace. This situation has been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic. High profile public demonstrations have interfered with heath care workers and the public from accessing health care facilities.
Taken together, the amendments affirm the federal government’s recognition of the importance of protecting health care workers and of ensuring safe access to health services. At the same time, these changes would respect Canadians’ freedom to voice their concerns and protest in a safe and peaceful manner, and ensure workers’ freedom to take labour action, consistent with the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
Intimidation and obstruction access offences
These amendments would create a specific intimidation offence to further protect health care workers, those who assist them, and persons seeking health services. The new intimidation offence is meant to address circumstances where a health care worker, or person seeking health services, is subject to any intimidating conduct. This could include threats, or other forms of violence, that are intended to provoke fear to interfere with the duties of a health care worker, or to impede a person from receiving health care services.
A specific obstructing access offence would prohibit obstructing any person from accessing health facilities. This offence would not apply where a person is peacefully protesting or communicating information, such as on a picket line outside a health facility, even if that has a minor impact on the ability of others to access the facility.
These offences would both be punishable by a maximum penalty of 10 years imprisonment on indictment. Depending on the degree of seriousness and circumstances of the alleged offence the Crown would have the option to proceed by indictment for more serious cases or by summary conviction for less serious cases.
Aggravating sentencing factors
In addition, aggravating factors at sentencing would be created that would require courts to consider more serious penalties for offenders who target health care workers engaged in their duties or who impede others from obtaining health services.
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