An anti-mask rally in Steinbach drew a large turnout and led to a fine of $ 1,296 for La Broquerie Reeve Lewis Weiss, the only elected official to speak at the event.
“I kind of felt there was a target on my back,” Weiss said after a provincial employee handed him the ticket for violating an emergency public health order. Public health orders prohibit gatherings of more than five people.
Weiss did not organize the Hugs Over Masks rally, but said he felt it was important for him to talk about it. When asked if the fine was worth it, he replied: “It is always worth speaking out”. He acknowledged that he was concerned about the possibility of the virus spreading during the rally, but no more than any other illness. He compared the risk to the risk of contracting COVID-19 during the event to the risk of having a car accident on the way home.
Weiss admitted people were dying and said he supported healthcare workers, but downplayed the severity of the virus and said he and others who attended the rally believed they couldn’t trust the information distributed by public health officials and the news media, and that they have the right not to wear masks.
“It is a terrible time, and now is not the right time for this event to happen. These are terrible times, but when do we speak? He said, echoing his speech to the crowd. To them, he said, “Now is not a good time to hold a rally when people are dying around us. But what you don’t realize, or a lot of people don’t realize, people are still dying around us. “
The RCMP blocked the entrance to the city’s AD Penner Park after more than 100 people, many of whom called themselves “freedom fighters”, showed up. Officials from the provincial departments of health and justice were also present to follow the rally and make their presence known. After Weiss was fined, some attendees shouted and honked their horns at provincial staff and reporters to leave. “Go home to the devil, you!” A man shouted as the provincial officials left.
As the rally unfolded, the province announced 239 new cases of COVID-19, including 40 in the Southern Health Region, which includes Steinbach. Three of the 15 COVID-19-related deaths announced on Saturday – the highest daily death toll Manitoba has seen so far – were men in their 70s and 80s from the Southern Health Region. Steinbach nurses said the city’s Bethesda Regional Health Center was overcapacity with COVID-19 patients and reported a lack of space so severe that emergency room patients had to be triage while waiting in their cars outside the hospital.
This kind of scene was not taking place at the Health Center on Saturday afternoon, but Manitoba Health Minister Cameron Friesen admitted a day earlier that Steinbach and his region “currently have the highest rates of transmission. from across the province ”.
Meanwhile, a five-minute drive from the hospital, rally attendees listened to Christian music played through speakers attached to a flatbed trailer and clapped as several speakers – including the chiropractor at the retired Gerry Bohemier – decried the closure of churches and schools, imposing restrictive lockdowns and imposing masks. They were holding signs with slogans such as “love over fear”, “honk for freedom” and “media is the virus”. Many speakers have been spreading conspiracy theories and adopting anti-vaccine views. One of the commonalities between them was the idea that public health officials and the news media were sowing fear and not doing enough to recognize the economic and mental consequences of the lockdown.
“People are dying every day,” he said. “They die from everything else; suicide, depression, being locked up. ”