Parents of children from at least two Barrie schools are voicing their concerns after members of the “grassroots” organization Action4Canada were seen handing out anti-vaccination literature during morning drop-offs.
One parent, who didn’t want her name to be used for fear of being targeted by "anti-vaxxers," said she didn’t even realize what was happening until it was too late.
“As I was going through the driveway loop. At first, I thought it was school staff. Then as I got closer I realized they didn’t have name badges or lanyards," the mom told BarrieToday.
Once she realized the individuals were not school staff, she quickly snapped a few photographs.
“Their initial response when I questioned them was 'we’re on public property'," she said, adding in one photo she took, the woman is not on the sidewalk, but on school property.
She says she filed a report through the Barrie police online reporting system, but was told there was nothing they could do.
"A school should be a safe space, not a place to target people — especially with such blatant misinformation. Parenting over the last 20 months has been hard enough," she added. "We are all constantly walking a tightrope of trying to figure out what’s best for our kids, which decision is the right decision.
"If their argument is 'nobody can tell me what to put in my body', then why does this group thinks it’s fine to try and tell others what they should or shouldn’t put in theirs? It’s hypocritical."
She was also concerned and "upset" by the language used in the flyer, "phrases like 'the natural family' and 'faith, family and freedom'," which she added is "thinly veiled homophobia and discrimination."
The flyer, which was provided to BarrieToday, described the group as a “grassroots movement reaching out to millions of Canadians” and “committed to protecting faith, family and freedom." The flyer also expressed anti-vaccination views.
Simcoe County District School Board spokesperson Sarah Kekewich told BarrieToday the board respects the right for a peaceful protest. However, these protests may not occur on school property or interfere with traffic flow or student access to the school.
Barrie police communications co-ordinator Peter Leon told BarrieToday they did not receive a call from officials at either Ferndale Woods Elementary School or Allandale Heights Public School following those events, noting it would be the school’s responsibility to report any issues of concerns to police.
Leon said it is not illegal to protest or hand out literature outside of a school, provided those involved don’t enter onto school property. If they were to enter school property, they would then be trespassing, and can be asked to leave. Should they not do so, he added, then the individual would be considered to be committing an offense under the Trespass to Property Act.
“We are in some challenging times with respect to this because of the availability of vaccines to young children,” he said.
To date, Leon said police have not been made aware of any public safety concerns in respect to any local vaccination clinics that are catering to younger children aged five to 11.
“We have had officers there proactively to make sure everything is A-OK and we haven’t had anything that’s caused us to go to any of those locations," he said.
“If a parent has decided it’s in the best interest of their child to have them vaccinated — or wish not to do so — those are choices parents are making," Leon added. "There are people out there that can go about doing what they’re doing, provided they just don’t interfere with somebody’s ability to move freely.”
Leon said he had never heard of the group that was set up outside the local schools in the past week.
“We do live in a democracy and people are allowed to express their views and opinions, but if at any time this type of activity impedes the movement or the ability of people to enter into a school location… then the police would be called to deal with the situation," he said.
The Simcoe Muskoka District Health Unit is hosting a virtual live Q&A for parents and caregivers on COVID-19 vaccinations for children aged five to 11 years on Wednesday, Dec. 8 from 7 p.m. until 8:30 p.m.
The health unit also reported last week that more than 5,000 kids in Simcoe-Muskoka had received the COVID vaccine in first week of pediatric roll-out.