Family physician harassed after encouraging people to wear masks

Ottawa man first to be charged under new law for threatening healthcare worker

Family physician harassed after encouraging people to wear masks

Ottawa police have charged a man for allegedly threatening a healthcare work under a new law.

Police have released a warrant for the arrest of Louis Mertzelos in relation to multiple threatening phone calls he is accused of making to a health-care worker, according to reports.

The police have also charged Mertzelos for a “hate-motivated offence” for harassing communication, harassment by repeated communication and mischief.

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Dr. Nili Kaplan-Myrth, a family physician in Ottawa, said she was harassed after appearing on a national television show advocating for people to keep wearing masks. “It’s all been so horrible,” she said in an interview, according to The Canadian Press. “This law makes a difference."

Kaplan-Myrth says Mertzelos also targeted her with antisemitic slurs and that more than one person called to harass and intimidate her and her staff. Police are continuing to investigate the other alleged threats made against her.

“For once, somebody has our backs,” said Kaplan-Myrth. “It’s always more distressing when you say something horrible is happening, and then other people just shrug, and they don’t do anything.”

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There are also similar separate offences for harassment of politicians, judges, journalists and members of the clergy. The Canadian Federation of Nurses Unions (CFNU) applauded the police for charging Mertzelos.

“Very impressive,” said Linda Silas, the president of CFNU, in a Toronto Star report. “This is the first time I’ve ever seen that they’ve actually put out a public notice for someone.

“That means that (Bill) C-3 … is starting to take effect.”

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The charges were laid under Bill C-3, which created a specific intimidation offence to protect health care workers, those who assist them, and persons seeking health services from circumstances where they are subject to any intimidating conduct.

Intimidating conducts under the rule include threats or other forms of violence that are intended to provoke fear to interfere with the duties of a health care worker, or to impede a person from receiving health care services, according to the federal government.

Offenders can face up to 10 years of prison time. The federal government proposed legislation in November 2021, and it received Royal Assent the following month.

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Nearly two-thirds (63 per cent) of healthcare workers experienced physical violence, based on the Canadian Union of Public Employees’ (CUPE) survey of 2,300 front-line registered practical nurses (RPNs), personal support workers (PSWs), porters, cleaners and other front-line hospital staff conducted May 17 to 24, 2022.

And 53 per cent reported an increase in violence targeting them or a co-worker during the COVID-19 pandemic.