Amendments to the Criminal Code to protect health care workers and people seeking access to health services

On December 17, 2021, Bill C-3, which amends the Criminal Code to enhance protections for health care workers, those who assist them, and those accessing health care services, received Royal Assent.

Health care workers have long faced difficult working conditions, including violence and threats of violence in the workplace. This situation has been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic. High profile public demonstrations have interfered with heath care workers and with the public accessing health care facilities.

Taken together, the amendments affirm the federal government’s recognition of the importance of protecting health care workers and those who assist them, and of ensuring safe access to health facilities. At the same time, these changes respect Canadians’ freedom to voice their concerns and protest in a safe and peaceful manner, and ensure workers’ freedom to take labour action, consistent with the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

The amendments

Intimidation and obstructing access offences

These amendments have created a specific intimidation offence to further protect health care workers, those who assist them, and persons seeking health services. The new intimidation offence will address circumstances where a health care worker, or person seeking health services, is subject to any intimidating conduct. This could 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.

The specific obstructing access offence prohibits obstructing any person from accessing health facilities. This offence does not apply where a person is peacefully protesting or communicating information, such as on a picket line outside a health facility, even if that has a minor impact on the ability of others to access the facility.

These offences are both punishable by a maximum penalty of 10 years imprisonment on indictment. Depending on the degree of seriousness and circumstances of the alleged offence, the prosecutor will have the option to proceed by indictment for more serious cases or by summary conviction for less serious cases. The maximum penalty on summary conviction is two years less a day.

Aggravating sentencing factors

In addition, aggravating factors at sentencing require courts to consider more serious penalties for offenders who target health care workers engaged in their duties or who impede others from obtaining health services.

Coming into force

These changes come into force 30 days after Royal Assent.