Flying in the face of the dire warning Premier Doug Ford gave only the day before, hundreds gathered at Meridian Place to voice their displeasure at the latest restrictions imposed upon them.
Unmasked in the sunshine, they carried homemade signs that denounced the severity of the COVID-19 pandemic and current restrictive lockdown as a threat to their civil rights and freedom.
“COVID-19 is a real thing, but it’s being exploited on all fronts for different agendas,” said Doug McLeaming, 67, of Barrie at the protest Saturday afternoon. “With this vaccine, it’s all about compliance. My Dad fought in World War II and I don’t want to piss on his grave by not standing up for our freedom.”
McLeaming was one of the large group gathered on the steps of the downtown park to hear speeches, sing O’ Canada, say the Christian Lord’s Prayer, and chant “Enough is Enough” when former Conservative cabinet minister and current leader of the People’s Party of Canada, Maxime Bernier took the stage.
“I’m very pleased that you are here because freedom is the most important value in a free society,” said Bernier.
During his cross-country tour, Bernier has been stirring the fires of discontent by encouraging large rallies to gather, largely ignoring the danger of spreading the deadly coronavirus that has taken more than 23,500 lives across the country.
“Our children must be able to go to school in person without wearing any masks. Our church must be open, that’s why I was in Vancouver, Alberta and here today. To do what I’m doing right now. To fight for our freedom, for our liberty and the people there are listening. We may be a tiny minority, but we are starting an ideological revolution,” he told the attentive crowd. “We must defend our freedom, our way of life, our western civilization values right now against these authoritarian governments in Ottawa, in BC and Quebec. Enough is enough.”
Saturday’s was the fifth Freedom Rally held by Barrie resident Tyler Nicholson. He was handed an $ 880 Provincial Offence ticket last weekend for contravening the Reopening Ontario Act and Barrie police expected to lay another fine on Saturday, said spokesperson Peter Leon.
“We are in the process of taking care of the situation right now. Last week the event organizer was charged, and we’ll probably look at taking a similar approach to enforcement this week,” Leon said.
Police later tweeted that they had issued eight Provincial Offense Notices, including one to the event’s organizer.
“People have the ability to make a choice,” said Leon. “We hope that they choose to follow the advice of public health.
“Certainly, this is one of those opportunities where, unfortunately, a lot of people have the potential to gather and they recognize there could be consequences down the road. We certainly hope people take everything into consideration, but it’s evident people have chosen not to wear personal protective equipment.”
Rally participant Stacey Grewal said she believes the rally was about more than the global pandemic.
“This is the new pro-choice movement,” Grewal said. “I’m standing here for people wearing masks or not – it’s about our personal freedom and right to choose.”