It sports a giant cutout of a needle in bright red with the word “experimental” on it, with rotating messages including “Know Jesus, Know Peace” and “#Clotshot”. The words are different but they all hear sending the same message: don’t trust COVID-19 vaccines.
The sign stands on land in the RM of Stanley, owned by Coun. Alfred “Bitz” Loewen, maps from the municipal government office confirmed.
Welcome to anti-vaxxer country, where COVID-19 vaccination rates are the lowest in the province – but no one wants to talk about it.
Loewen, Stanley Reeve Morris Olafson and the rest of the board declined to speak to the Free press despite repeated requests for comment.
On a recent Friday in Winkler, residents of an area park were reluctant to tell a reporter about the sign and what it stands for.
“It makes me a little uncomfortable, because there is the idea that even if there was only one person who put up a sign, that other people share this opinion”, a said a woman from the park, who asked not to be identified.
“And it’s kind of like a reminder of, ‘Oh, I might not be as safe as I think I am.’ Because the people around me don’t want to follow safety protocols and don’t want to get vaccinated and they feel like it’s a government conspiracy or whatever they think. ”
“It makes me a little uncomfortable, because there is the idea that even if there was only one person who put up a sign, that other people share that opinion. ”
The Southern Health Region has long had the lowest vaccination rates in Manitoba. The RM of Stanley and Winkler have the two lowest rates in the province, with 21.8% and 38.3% of eligible Manitobans having received at least one dose of COVID-19 respectively.
Winkler Mayor Martin Harder, who has been outspoken about the COVID-19 divide in his community, called any sign of divisive rhetoric “disappointing”.
COVID-19 signaling has appeared in southern Manitoba throughout the pandemic. Some have been anti-containment, while others have criticized the current method of treating the virus. Signs stating “Only God can stop a virus” and “Ivermectin treats COVID-19” have been erected (Ivermectin is a drug tested in clinical trials, with evidence of its ability to treat COVID-19 called “inconclusive” by the World Health Organization).
Henry Siemens, operator of the Winkler branch of signage company Magnetsigns, said it was a unique time to decide which messages are reaching the community – and which are not.
“We’ve been in this (business) for quite a few years, and I can count on a hand before this year, how many times we’ve had someone call us and we’ve been concerned about a sign,” he said. longtime Winkler said. resident. “And that seems to be a pretty regular occurrence these days. ”
Siemens said many calls came from residents concerned about the homemade signs, adding that it would not comment on the sign on the Loewen lot.
However, he acknowledged that the company needed to withdraw at least one sign it initially approved: It was advertising ivermectin as a suitable treatment for COVID-19, with a URL where people could get more of it. information.
“This one, we woke up for a few weeks and quickly recognized that it was an inappropriate message in terms of how it was received,” he said.
“When our staff took a look at it, we dived into the URL, and it seemed to respectfully present information and a counter-argument… our audience quickly told us it wasn’t, that ‘They don’t. I don’t feel comfortable sharing this information, so it happened very quickly. ”
Society has demands from all sides of the COVID-19 debate to put up aggressive or inappropriate signs.
“It comes from (requests saying): ‘I want to broadcast an anger message, masks are bad” or “I want to broadcast an anger message saying:” You are inbred, put on your mask “,” he said. he declares.
“We’ve been in this (business) for quite a few years, and I can count on a hand before this year, how many times we’ve had someone call us and we’re worried about a sign… And it seems to be a fairly regular occurrence these days.
– Henry Siemens, of the signage company Magnetsigns
As a result, the company used a policy to eliminate potentially offensive signage: If a customer is unwilling to publicly own their own sign, the conversation often ends there.
“Sometimes even something very, very benign (is controversial). We had signs that said, “Please stay six feet apart. It was polite, it wasn’t, we thought, anything really controversial. But we had vandalism on the signs, literally, almost daily… ”
It is an overall difficult situation for Siemens, both as a business owner and a long-time resident in the region.
“I believe very strongly that people should be able to express their opinion, you can agree or disagree with me, you should be free to say it. But in the same way, it should be on both sides of this opportunity, ”he said. .
“We often have the impression that one side or the other wants to silence the other side. ”