Police charge man with hate crimes against Ottawa doctor

This is only the second time a new federal law aimed at protecting healthcare workers has been used since it took effect in January.

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Ottawa police have charged a Windsor man with hate crimes, including bullying a healthcare worker, in connection with racist anti-vaccine phone messages sent to Ottawa doctor Dr. Nili Kaplan -Myrth.

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Police have issued a warrant for the arrest of Louis Mertzelos, 58, of Windsor, charged with hate-motivated harassment, repeated communication harassment, mischief and intimidation of health services.

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Kaplan-Myrth confirmed the charges relate to two phone calls she received last month.

The charges are hailed as an important step in a climate of escalating anonymous harassment and intimidation against health workers and others often linked to public health measures in the event of a pandemic – this frequently target race, religion or gender.

This is only the second time a new federal law aimed at protecting healthcare workers has been used since it took effect in January. Amendments to the Criminal Code create a new offense of intimidation to protect health care workers and people seeking health care services.

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Kaplan-Myrth called it an important law.

« It’s a way of saying that when we do our job, we need to know that someone is supporting us, » she said. “We stepped up, did everything we were asked to do and went above and beyond to really help the community. As a result, being bombarded with death threats, rape threats, anti-Semitism and everything in between is just shocking and heinous.

Bernie Farber, who heads the Canadian Anti-Hate Network and offered legal advice to Kaplan-Myrth, said the charges laid by the Ottawa Police Hate Crimes and Bias Unit should send a strong message.

“It has been going on for months now. They are not just doctors, they are journalists, lawyers, politicians. People feel like there’s some legality because nothing happened. PAHO, to their credit, has decided that this crosses the bar of acceptability,” he said.

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« This should be a lesson to anyone who thinks it’s that easy. It’s not going to happen again. People are going to face charges and possible jail time.

Kaplan-Myrth received the calls that are the subject of the police investigation on September 6 and 7, shortly after she appeared on a TVO news program to talk about the continued importance of mask-wearing and social distancing. other public health measures. The anonymous caller called the family doctor “unbalanced” and launched a tirade of anti-Semitism against her with each call.

These are far from the only threats the famed Ottawa family doctor and advocate who helped vaccinate thousands of people at outdoor “Jabapalooza” events has received.

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She has also received death threats and even people have shown up in person at her clinic in the Glebe, where the doors are now locked and security features have been installed. Police are investigating other threats, she said.

Kaplan-Myrth said being a lawyer is an important part of her medical practice but, like others, she often pays the price.

« We can’t stop doing our job and advocacy is an important part of our job, » she said.

Kaplan-Myrth said racist attacks, as well as anti-science attacks, have also intensified against her colleagues during the pandemic.

“People said it was a brave step to pursue this. I don’t consider this to be brave, it’s just a necessary step for all of us, so that doctors, nurses, politicians, journalists and everyone who does the job that we are supposed to do does it at least knowing that if people are violent and threatening, racist and anti-Semitic, that there are consequences for their actions. »

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Dr Alika Lafontaine, who is president of the Canadian Medical Association, echoed the sentiment that doctors who go to the police when threatened and harassed are brave, but said he hopes others will start to do so.

« I admire the bravery of any doctor who comes forward. »

He said changes to the Penal Code were needed because the “frequency and intensity” of harassment against health workers has increased and only a small fraction of incidents are reported, a sign that pre-existing laws “have not done work ». Critics said the changes were unnecessary because it is already illegal to intimidate and threaten people.

The AMC was among the organizations that lobbied for the new laws.

Lafontaine said he hopes more doctors will start to report harassment and turn themselves in to police, which he says should encourage cases like the one involving Kaplan-Myrth.

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« The less we tolerate this extreme behavior, the better off we will all be. »

Amendments to the Criminal Code to protect health care workers and those seeking to access health care services were part of a Liberal election promise. Under the amendments, intimidating health workers and obstructing access to health services is punishable by up to 10 years in prison, depending on the circumstances.

“Healthcare 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,” the federal government said in a statement on the changes.

Dr Todd Watkins, associate CEO of the Canadian Medical Protective Association, said doctors and other healthcare providers are reporting an increase in harassment, which is contributing to their exhaustion and burnout « at an already difficult time. .

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“We would like to express our horror for the violence and harassment of healthcare professionals and our belief that doctors have a right to a safe environment. We support any legislation that would help keep patients and providers safe so they can provide care to Canadians.

He encouraged doctors to contact the police if they fear for their safety. The CMPA is a not-for-profit organization that provides Canadian physicians with training in legal defense, liability protection and risk management.

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