Canadian Medical Association calls on feds to criminalize online threats against health care workers

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Published November 18, 2021 at 10:26 am

Registered nurses with Hamilton Health Sciences, Melanie Cook (left) and Kerry-Ann Hudson (right). The Canadian Medical Association (CMA) is calling on Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to protect health care workers against online harassment and threats of violence.

The Canadian Medical Association (CMA) is calling on Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to protect health care workers against online harassment and threats of violence.

The CMA says there has been an escalation in the targeting of physicians and other health workers on social media since the COVID-19 pandemic began.

“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. We should be celebrating these voices, but instead, they are at risk of being silenced by harmful, hateful and bullying behaviour,” says CMA President Dr. Katharine Smart.

The organization says it “is calling on the federal government to follow through on its commitment to protecting health workers” and for social media companies to take action to address these issues on their platforms.

Trudeau has said he is committed to making it an offence to intimidate or threaten any health worker but the CMA wants the prime minister to “accelerate establishing a new offence in the Criminal Code of Canada that addresses threats, violence, harassment and intimidation of health care workers and anyone seeking health care treatment, both in-person and online, including on social media platforms.”

In addition, the CMA is contacting Twitter, Meta (Facebook and Instagram), Alphabet (YouTube), Microsoft (LinkedIn) and TikTok to collaborate on the development of an action plan to stop online harassment and personal threats against health care professionals.

“We cannot let the negative actions of a few become an acceptable standard in our lives. Medical professionals – and quite frankly, society – deserve better,” says Dr. Smart.

A study released by JAMA Internal Medicine in April 2021 suggests nearly one-quarter of physicians surveyed reported being personally attacked on social media in 2019. Those who experienced harassment consistently reported emotional distress and fear. The study also showed a disproportionate number of women are targets of online harassment.

“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. As Canadians, we must call for better treatment of health workers and demand a safer environment for them to speak out. Their voices are needed,” adds Dr. Smart.

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