Horwath calls for buffer zones separating businesses from protesters

Ontario NDP Leader Andrea Horwath (File photo by Miranda Chant, Blackburn News)

Saying business owners and their employees shouldn’t have to contend with obnoxious protesters just for keeping their customers safe, Ontario’s NDP Leader is proposing the province enact legislation to implement public health safety zones around those businesses.

“We’ve seen what’s been happening to too many businesses,” said Andrea Horwath. “Folks who were doing the right thing, who are trying to keep people safe, who are vaccinated, whose customers are vaccinated, whose workers are vaccinated — and they’re being harassed for it. That has to stop.”

She told reporters the “organized” harassment not only risks the health of those around the protesters but also threatens the fragile economic recovery.

“The ones that have been able to hang on and are welcoming customers back shouldn’t be faced with customers being literally chased out because of the very disruptive, very violent types of protests that we’ve seen,” said Horwath.

Horwath said the protests are not just happening in Toronto. She’s hearing from her MPPs that it is happening in other communities too.

In the past, Horwath has made these kinds of announcements surrounded by the people affected. On Tuesday morning, there were no business owners included in the conference call.

“They’re worried,” she explained. “If they come out publicly to support this legislation, which they have indicated privately, they’ll just end up with a target on their back.”

The plan is scant on details. Horwath couldn’t tell reporters how much distance would be required between shops and restaurants and those protesting masking and vaccination. While she said the legislation is specific to pandemic-related protests, she was unsure if there would be a sunset clause. It’s unlikely the bill will address the so-called “online bombing” where protesters post negative reviews on a business’s website or threatening emails sent to staff and owners. It would only cover physical interaction.

She did say the proposal is before the legislative committee now, and the intent is not to discourage protest in general, just not so close to those who are patronizing businesses.

“When people are using organizational tools to get these little posses together to be right up in the face of these businesses, we need to give those businesses space to do their business,” she explained.

Horwath hinted the legislation could include fines for those who violate it and that it would be up to police and municipal bylaw enforcement officers to enforce it.

Horwath also called on Premier Doug Ford to introduce a vaccine passport, saying it would take a lot of the responsibility and pressure off businesses to protect their clientele and employees.

Ford is still expected to make the announcement, but it may not come now until later in the week.