CMA says it’s time for action to stop harassment of healthcare workers

Keyboard. (Photo by Mike Vlasveld)

The Canadian Medical Association says the time for talk is over. It’s calling on the federal government and social media companies to make good on a promise to protect healthcare workers from harassment.

“During the pandemic, health workers have shared scientific knowledge, advanced evidence-based positions, and advocated for the public’s health and wellness on social media,” said CMA President Doctor Katharine Smart. “We should be celebrating these voices, but instead, they are at risk of being silenced by harmful, hateful, and bullying behaviour.”

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau committed to making it a criminal offence to intimidate or threaten health workers online or in person.

Last September, Windsor Police launched an investigation after staff at Windsor Regional Hospital faced threats.

A release from the hospital stated, “we can confirm more than one potential threat was recently received targeting individual, senior leaders in the organization.”

In the same month, Canadian Frontline Nurses organized a protest outside the London Health Sciences Centre. Like others across the country, large crowds of anti-vaccination protesters blocked access to the facility.

Last April, a study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association suggested nearly a quarter of doctors surveyed had endured personal attacks on social media, even before the pandemic. It also showed a disproportionate number of women were the target of online harassment. Those who experienced hateful and threatening messages consistently reported fear and emotional distress.

“The health workforce is already facing unprecedented levels of burnout and exhaustion because of the pandemic. No one should also be subjected to threats and intimidation on the job,” added Smart.

The association said legislation, public mobilization, and responsible management of social media platforms are some of the actions required to create a safe environment for healthcare workers.

That’s why the CMA has also contacted Twitter, Meta, YouTube, Microsoft and Tik Tok. It has challenged them to collaborate on the development of an action plan to stop online harassment.