100 Mile RCMP were called to keep the peace at the third ‘Health Justice March’ on Birch Avenue Saturday, after reports of a potential counter-protest.
An RCMP constable was dispatched to the area as 40 people, the majority of them not wearing masks and carrying signs saying ‘Freedom is our Right,’ ‘Facts over Fear’ and ‘Wearing muzzles kill brain cells’ marched down Birch Avenue before gathering outside the 100 Mile Community Hall to rally for their rights and freedoms.
Ali Williamson, who urged people to attend the march on Facebook, said the group was a “self-organized” march for people to exercise their rights of peaceful assembly. She said it was not necessarily an anti-mask protest, adding she can’t wear a mask herself because of medical reasons, but “people feel their rights are being taken away.”
Staff-Sgt. Svend Nielsen said police were there to observe the proceedings from across the street to “monitor it and make sure people are safe.”
The counter-protest, which Nielsen said involved fewer than five people, was led by Aaron Thomas, who stood on the other side of the street and amplified Dr. Bonnie Henry’s address through a megaphone as the others marched.
“All the misinformation and a complete disregard for safety is just a slap in the face for people who have lost loved ones,” said Thomas, who has lived in 100 Mile for the past five years. “I love this community. It just boggles my mind the risks people are willing to take.
“Hopefully some facts of the thousands of people who are being affected by this will get through. I just had a son this year and don’t want him to grow up in a post-apocalyptic wasteland because of this pandemic.”
The march occurred just two days before Henry extended the COVID-19 measures to Jan. 8 after B.C. reported 2,020 new cases of COVID-19 and 35 deaths over the weekend. Of those new cases, 203 were recorded in Interior Health. The COVID-19 measures prohibit gatherings and events as well as meeting up with people outside of your immediate household. However, some drive-through, drive-in and drop-off events with COVID safety plans will now be allowed with up to 50 people who must stay inside their vehicles.
Nielsen said Tuesday RCMP officers will be speaking with organizers of events such as the health justice march to remind them they could be fined if they don’t start adhering to the provincial orders. Police will also approach individuals who are not wearing masks in stores and will reach out to at least two churches, which have not been following the COVID-19 measures, he said.
Individuals will face fines of $230 while those holding events could be subject to fines of $2,300.
“We are taking different action now than before,” Nielsen said, adding they will be enforcing the law of the land through public health. “Certainly we respect the fact people have a lawful right to protest these things but these things don’t supersede public health.”