Anti-Lockdown Protests Week #4: No Speeches, No Interviews, Lots of Yelling!

For a month now, a small group of people have been gathering in Market Square every SAturday to protest Ontario’s COVID response. It’s impossible to distill the beliefs of everyone there into a simple sentence or paragraph, but there was one thing abundantly clear at the most recent gathering: Whatever welcome members of the local media had at these gatherings, it has more or less expired.

At noon about 20 people started to gather in Market Square like usual, and nearly all of them were familiar faces from one or all of the previous protests. Lisa had returned. I hadn’t seen her since a protest in St. George’s Square in March, but she’s the one that can always be seen dancing to the very loud music. Not-so-subtle musical selections like the Parachute Club’s “Rise Up” and the Who’s “Won’t Get Fooled Again” were on today’s playlist.

Jeremie Ladouceur was there. He seems to have given up his ongoing vigil outside city hall. Someone said that he was chased away by City bylaw or the police, but he was not in the mood for talking.

In fact, almost no one was in a talking mood. After over 30 minutes of milling about, I approached Ava and asked her if there were going to be any speeches today. “No, and the reason we are not is because you guys are here,” she said pointing at me and videographer Troy Bridgeman.

Ava was mad at us because she thought that our coverage did not accurately reflect the people here or there point of view, although she would not point to a specific piece or detail that was incorrect. “Don’t you know what you write?” she asked. But Ava wasn’t alone in her anger at local media.

“You want to see journalists with a little bit of integrity, honesty and respect and honour? Huh? Do you want to see that?” Dave Driver yelled at me from several feet away. He brought over a couple of copies of Druthers, a newspaper filled with COVID conspiracy theories and anti-vaccination sentiment. “Here’s some real journalists, and you know what they look like? They sure as fuck don’t look like you, pal!”

I made a pithy comeback, but Driver claimed not to hear it because “you got that fucking muzzle on.” He meant my mask.

At the time, I was standing near William McKay, who was attending the gathering with his father Alexander. They were here a few weeks ago, and stood out dressed in kilts, but they were interested in an aspect to these gatherings that seems to have been forgotten, the effect of the lockdown on small businesses. McKay says they left last week’s meeting with direction, to reach out to small businesses, and develop a pamphlet to hand out.

“There are too many voices, too many aspects that are making it difficult to be clear about why we’re here,” the younger McKay said. “I’m trying my best to help guide the conversation.”

At least one of the initiatives from last week’s meeting was accomplished as Christian arrived with the draft pamphlet. The one-page, single-spaced Word doc called “COVID-19 Vaccines Fact Sheet” featured 10 different points, all unsourced. This fact did not go unnoticed by McKay who noted that the blank back half of the sheet could have been used for footnotes, and reference links. “It’s a good exercise for people to do their own research,” Christian argued.

“There are too many questions, too many deceptions,” McKay said later. “Answers is what I’m looking for, the facts don’t add up.”

The facts on the “Fact Sheet” meanwhile offered an interesting mix of information. Some things mentioned were essentially true, like the fact that no details have been released about a COVID-19 vaccine injury compensation program announced by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in December. A CTV News article from March mentioned that the call for proposals from the Federal government closed on February 24, and the various submissions were under review.

Another point on the sheet says that the COVID-19 vaccines have not been “formally approved for use by Health Canada” because it’s only been approved by an “interim order”, which is an official designation from Health Canada. The Minister of Health can sign off on an interim order if “immediate action is required to deal with a significant risk, direct or indirect, to health, safety or the environment,” and a variety of interim orders have been issued since the start of the pandemic. The interim order can only be in effect for a year, at which point it can be renewed, but Health Canada is consistently monitoring and updating guidance all COVID vaccines.

But one of the big pieces of outright misinformation on this pamphlet was the assertion that “Hundreds of thousand of individuals” reported severe adverse reactions to a COVID-19 vaccine, and that thousands of people in the U.S. have died from receiving a vaccine.

Looking to the Centres for Disease Control website, they report that by May 3 over 245 million doses of a COVID-19 vaccine have been handed out in the United States. They also report that between two and five people for every million people vaccinate will experience and allergic reaction, while there have been only 23 cases of “thrombosis with thrombocytopenia syndrome” (blood clots) out of 8.4 million doses of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine. These two instances alone barely add up to one thousand let alone “hundreds of thousands” of reactions.

As for deaths, the CDC does report that between December 14 and May 3 that there have been 4,178 reports of death among people who received a vaccine. All adverse vaccine reactions, including death, are reported to the Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System or VEARS, which anyone can provide a report to, and often offers valuable data for doctors and scientists to follow up on. For instance, it was VEARS reporting that first pointed to the blood cut issue in people that received the J&J vaccine.

Still, it’s important to recognize the difference between “Selected Adverse Events Reported after COVID-19 Vaccination” and adverse effects directly related to a vaccine. As reported in early January with the death of over 30 people in Norway nursing homes after those residents had received vaccination, it was likely that those people had co-morbidities that would have resulted in their deaths whether they had received a vaccine or not. While it’s not impossible for people to die from receiving a vaccine, it’s most often an immediate reaction caused by anaphylaxis, an allergic reaction that would happen within 30 minutes of getting a shot, not days later.

This pamphlet was the only official form of communication at Saturday’s rally. Some people were willing to talk to the media about their individual concerns, or the reasons they were coming out to these gatherings, but the leaders were angry at the way they’ve been portrayed locally. That anger was confusing to the ones there out of genuine concern about COVID issues, and the ones that know that media independence and skepticism is part of this process and were a little more understanding.

But now, more than a month into these gatherings, there’s a question of long this can be kept up. The line outside Eric the Baker on Saturday had almost as many people as the gathering in Market Square, and among those that still come there’s a conflict of priorities, goals, and yes, realities. Is there any sustainability in the cause, of has the Guelph version of this movement gone as far as it can? Stay tuned.

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