VANCOUVER, British Columbia—Thousands of people across Canada took to the streets on Sept. 18 to protest against COVID-19 restrictions and mandates, asking governments to uphold individual freedoms.
You got this Toronto! Record breaking crowds dominate Bloor Street as the Freedom Rally proceeds west. 🇨🇦 pic.twitter.com/dXcsmx8bVt
— Rowan (@canmericanized) September 18, 2021
In Vancouver, thousands gathered at the Vancouver Art Gallery to protest British Columbia’s latest restrictions, including the province’s recent vaccine passport mandate. The rally was one of several across Canada, and among an estimated 180 in cities around the world.
A protest in Toronto drew similarly large crowds and was addressed by different speakers, including MPP Rick Nicholls, who was kicked out of the PC caucus by Premier Doug Ford for refusing to get the COVID-19 vaccine.
An event in Calgary, which also drew a large crowd, was attended by People’s Party of Canada Leader Maxime Bernier.
The Vancouver event was organized by Alicia Johnson and Danielle Pistilli of The Freedom Organization.
“We are against medical tyranny, and we are against discrimination and segregation … and the rhetoric that this government is using the media to incite against the people, which is us versus them,” Johnson said. “We are watching, in real time right now, our own federal government inciting the same mechanism to turn the people against each other.”
Vern Penner, a Greater Vancouver resident who took part in the protest, has been designing creative emblems and clothing to protest government COVID-19 measures. He summed up his attendance with a challenge to his fellow Canadians: “The question I have for every Canadian is: Is Canada worth fighting for?” he asked. “And if it is, why aren’t we?”
Bert Mayo, a retired deputy sheriff who worked for the British Columbia Sheriff Service, spoke on behalf of Police on Guard for Thee, an organization created in 2020 by active and retired officers who felt their oath to uphold Canada’s Constitution had been jeopardized when governments required police to enforce certain COVID-19 restrictions.
“As law enforcement, we’ve taken an oath to uphold Charter rights and freedom for all Canadians,” Mayo said. “So what we’ve seen with these emergency measures, it comes into conflict when we’re asked to enforce them, but because of the oath we’ve taken to uphold people’s Charter rights, we say no to that.”
Pistilli said that while organizing the protest, her group included take-home resources as part of the messaging so people could gain a good understanding of the rights that Mayo feels are being abused. She also said Freedom Organization conducts its own polling, which demonstrates the public’s need for information.
“The polls that we did are completely counter-narrative to the polls that the mainstream media do,” she said.
“There are these vaccine passports, which so many of us have been screaming about for a year, they don’t agree with that. They don’t agree with the segregation. So we want to empower people, to educate people in their corner of the world, because if we all don’t make an individual difference, we’re not going to be going anywhere.”
The current passport mandate in B.C. prohibits people who haven’t been vaccinated from going to restaurants, gyms, sporting events, and other venues related to entertainment and celebrations. The province’s health officer has also reinstituted mandatory masks inside public buildings and COVID-19 vaccinations for some people, such as those working in health care and students living in university housing.
Both Alberta and Saskatchewan announced their versions of a vaccine passport last week, to be joined by Ontario, Nova Scotia, and Newfoundland, which plan to implement their passports in the coming weeks. Quebec and Manitoba, along with B.C., have already instituted vaccine passports.
Editor’s note: The information about the Calgary event was updated.