Health-care workers: The Canadian Medical Association is asking the federal government to fulfil its promise to support health-care employees amid continuing online harassment of physicians and other workers.

The medical association is also calling on social media companies to address harassment and threats made on platforms such as Facebook, Twitter and YouTube.

Online harassment against health-care workers has not only increased but also escalated in severity over recent weeks and months, said association president Dr. Katharine Smart.

The trend has emerged in parallel with the creation of COVID-19 vaccine mandates and the coming vaccine rollout for children, she added.

Smart said she would like social media companies to recognize they play a part in improving the safety of the platforms where such harassment takes place.

The association has contacted social media outlets and will be meeting with representatives next week to discuss how online spaces can be made safer, she said.

“This type of behaviour emboldens people, and that leads to actual physical harm of people,” Smart said. “And we’ve seen already health-care professionals that have been physically harmed, spit on, hit, accosted, and we can’t have that type of increasing violence.”

She also said the intimidation contributes to the already high levels of stress and burnout among health professionals, and could prompt workers to leave the field “at levels we’ve not seen before.”

During the federal election campaign, the Liberals pledged to introduce new criminal sanctions for those who intimidate or harass healthcare workers, as well as for anyone blocking access to vaccine clinics, hospitals, testing centres and abortion clinics.

The promises came as protesters gathered outside hospitals in opposition to proof-of-vaccination requirements and other public health measures.

There was no immediate comment Thursday from Justice Minister David Lametti’s office.

The association says that along with legislation and “responsible management” of social media platforms, the public’s help is also needed to ensure the safety of healthcare workers.

Smart said this means encouraging the public to hold social media companies accountable. “By joining in with us and calling for this action, they can show their support for health-care workers, and help us create a space that we can all benefit from,” said Smart.

“We want to be clear that this vicious cycle of online violence can’t become the legacy of this pandemic,” she added.

“We can’t let these new norms that are harmful to physicians, health-care workers, scientists and other people, including journalists that are speaking out to educate people, become acceptable.”

© 2021 The Canadian Press

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