For the third Saturday in a row, a small group of the vaccine hesitant, people that might be called conspiracy theorists, and others who are just concerned about the inadequacies of the government’s COVID-19 response, gathered in Market Squared to hash it out. This time, there’s a perceptible increase in hostility towards the media covering the event as attendees believed that the coverage they’re getting does not accurately reflect their beliefs.
Consider this: As the demonstration commenced, several people tried to block one journalist as he tried to video the event. They essentially followed him in a circle holding up signs to block his view, and when that didn’t work, things got more aggressive.
The speaker was Dora, who was also heavily featured at last week’s protest. She does not want to be identified formally, and again repeated that her job as some kind of health professional would be at stake if her employer found out that the was speaking at event like this. Still, Dora seemed undeterred from repeating many of the same talking points, from the infringement of COVID restrictions on freedoms, to the increase in anxiety and depression, to the right to refuse to get vaccinated.
“The point I’m trying to make is that not all of us have the privilege to work from home,” Dora said. “This is a friendly reminder to [Mayor] Cam [Guthrie] that your lifestyle is funded by the Canadian people, so start serving us, or resign and leave. We do not need charlatans to enlist the police to infringe upon our rights. This is Canada. This is a democracy.”
Not a police car was to be seen for the entirely of the demonstration. Two patrol cars rolled down Carden Street shortly after the protest broke up and most of the 30-someodd attendees left.
Many of the people who were at last week’s rally came back again this week, but there were several new faces as well. Many of them were people concerned about the latest government actions in response to the pandemic, some have started to lose faith that the end of the pandemic is near.
“It’s not nice to have to be in this position, to know that the government officials unfortunately do not have our best interests in mind,” said Christian. “It’s pretty evident by this point, when you look at all the measures that are supposedly for our benefit, they have not had any impact. We can see with the vaccines, and everything else they’ve brought for us, that the money would have been better spent – if we had followed their own narrative – by bolstering hospital capacities.”
It’s hard to convey the anger this person, and others, felt with just the written word alone. They were angry about the continued lockdown measures, they were angry about being labelled as just “conspiracy theorists,” and they were angry about the media not considering their evidence.
One man mentions Dr. Bryam Bridle, a researcher in the Department of Pathobiology at the University of Guelph. Back in November, Bridle co-authored an article noting his concerns about the data that had been released by Pfizer and Moderna about their vaccines. Of course, that was over six months ago, well before the first shot of either had been given out, and no where in his subsequent comments does Bridle advocate that the medical community should pursue a strategy without vaccines.
Another name that was brandied about was David Redman, a former Lieutenant-Colonel in the Canadian Forces who was formally the head of Alberta’s Emergency Management Agency. He’s been highly critical of not just the pandemic response by the Alberta government, but that of governments across Canada. Of course, he has not argued that governments should have done nothing, nor is he currently arguing that all current restrictions should be brought to an end now.
Something called the “Great Barrington Declaration” was also mentioned. Authored by a researcher from Oxford, a researcher from Harvard, and a researcher from Stanford last fall, the declaration basically called on everyone to resume normal life and build up resistance to the virus the old fashioned way through herd immunity. There are obvious criticisms to this approach, among them was the fact that there were many fake names included in the 15,000 signatories, and that a right-wing think tank funded by billionaire Charles Koch helped promote it.
A pamphlet was making the rounds at the protest with the headline, “Public Notice – COVID-19 is a Fraud, There was NO Pandemic.” Among other things, it quoted Dr. Michael Yeadon, a former VP at Pfizer who has become often cited in the vaccine hesitant community for his sudden and surprising turn last December when he co-authored a petition that demanded a halt to COVID vaccine trails asserting, without evidence, that they caused infertility in woman. Yeadon’s sudden change of perspective was recently covered in an investigative piece by Reuters.
The pamphlet also gave a list of “Websites of Interest” and on it were the ones you might expected seeing like Rebel Media, Hugs Over Masks, and Vaccine Choice Canada. There are also links to websites like “A Warrior Calls”, which traffics in COVID conspiracies as well as sovereignist-style ideology like the suggestion that the government has no right to license people to drive.
The list also boosted a link to the webpage of Independent MPP Randy Hillier, who’s attended a number of these events around Ontario and was ticketed at an anti-lockdown rally in Peterborough on Saturday. It also refers you to the website of Laura-Lynn Tyler Thompson, a former host of The 700 Club and People’s Party candidate in 2019 who has endorsed conversion therapy and other anti-LGBTQ+ measures.
Speaking of anti-LGBTQ+, there was more than one protest downtown on Saturday. A self-styled preacher was in St. George’s Square talk about the supposed sin of homosexuality and how he was praying for their forgiveness. One woman walking through the Square asked the preacher to shut up. He politely declined and said that he would pray for her in any event.