If you’ve spent any time at the corner of Commissioners and Wellington roads, one of London’s busiest intersections with the slowest traffic lights around, you know what to expect there mid-afternoon.
One is traffic, often lined up and more than a few times backed up to make way for ambulances racing to the Victoria Hospital campus of London Health Sciences Centre for life-saving care.
The northeast corner of the property has become like a speaker’s corner and a place to promote health-related events and activities. The anti-abortion groups have worn a path there.
Also, expect at least one homeless person to be standing on the traffic islands with a handmade cardboard sign.
That was the scene Monday when a Free Press photographer and I hung out on the southwest corner just in case there was any major disruption by about 200 anti-mask, anti-vax, anti-passport folks supporting Canadian Frontline Nurses and their silent protests outside hospitals across the country.
One of the organizers is fired LHSC nurse Kristen Nagle who has elbowed her way to the front of the anti-everything-pandemic movement. She could be seen mingling with the hometown crowd.
And anti-restriction pioneer Henry Hildebrandt, pastor at Aylmer’s controversial Church of God — who, frankly, has never seen a TV camera or a megaphone he didn’t like — showed up.
The rest of the participants appeared to be jazzed up by the protest and the people honking horns as they drove by. Some wore purple People’s Party of Canada shirts and hats and there were a few bright red T-shirts that said Free Canada.
I saw parents pushing baby buggies and holding the hands of their little kids. There were protest signs about getting rid of mandates, how coercion is not consent and that “my body my choice” (which always makes me do a double take).
My favourite was Last year’s heros (sic), this year’s zeros (sic), which should have been run through the old spell-checker.
LHSC’s administration and London’s mayor condemned the protest. At Monday’s Middlesex-London Health Unit media briefing, Mayor Ed Holder called the protesters “mindless mobs.”
“The ultimate irony is when members of this ignorant mob inevitably become sick with COVID in the coming days, weeks or months, it’s the people they’re harassing who will treat them with kindness, compassion and professionalism. It would be nice if those courtesies were a two-way street,” he said.
It was by all appearances a peaceful protest, as we Canadians are free to do. I had one woman with flowers ask if I was “going to showcase what happens.” Two women told me about an alleged assault with a jar of urine on the weekend at Victoria Park. One claimed it was done by antifa.
But allow me a couple of observations.
During the protest, I saw three homeless men. One of them gave up his spot south of the intersection once the protest started, only to have it taken by another man wearing what appeared to be slippers.
The other was a man I recognized as a regular, just west of the intersection, who had a sign, a Tim Hortons cup for change and a scrape on his nose. All three live in our community and need our help, perhaps for mental illness or drug addiction or unfathomable circumstances in their lives.
I didn’t see one demonstrator, or the pastor or the nurse or the PPC people, acknowledge them.
What chased the protest away was the rain.
It seems to me the protesters have all gotten so fascinated by their own navels that they can’t see past their divisive politics to look for ways to work with their neighbours, the majority who are vaccinated and want to solve a worldwide public health crisis.
I acknowledge that not getting vaccinated is their choice. And that choice leads to necessary consequences, including to stay away from the rest of us who have taken action not to get sick.
Also, the demonstration obstructed a couple of other signs on the fence by the hospital. One promoted the annual Terry Fox Run, a tradition honouring one of the most selfless Canadians ever, whose courage inspired a country and raised millions of dollars for medical research to save the lives of cancer patients.
The other spoke the truth of what matters right now. It said: Health care heroes work here.