Saskatoon school caretaker who attended 'freedom rallies' says he'll follow health orders and self-isolate

·3 min read
Brent Wintringham says he'll stay away from work at Hugh Cairns school as ordered. (Dan Zakreski/CBC - image credit)
Brent Wintringham says he'll stay away from work at Hugh Cairns school as ordered. (Dan Zakreski/CBC - image credit)

Hugh Cairns V.C. School caretaker Brent Wintringham says he can separate his personal political beliefs from the rules of his workplace.

But parents with children at the Saskatoon elementary school are upset that a public anti-masker is working there.

Wintringham is the night caretaker at Hugh Cairns. He also confirms that he's been attending so-called "freedom rallies" across the province for the past year, including recent events in Prince Albert and Saskatoon.

Two developments this past week thrust Wintringham into the spotlight.

First, the Saskatchewan Health Authority (SHA) declared a COVID-19 outbreak at Hugh Cairns, revealing there are at least three cases at the elementary school.

Then the Facebook page Safe Schools Saskatchewan posted photos of Wintringham, unmasked, speaking at a rally in Prince Albert earlier this month. In a public service announcement, the health authority told people who participated in the April 17 event to immediately self-isolate.

There has been no indication that Wintringham was the source of the Hugh Cairns outbreak. Saskatoon Public Schools would not comment on the specific circumstances with Wintringham, citing privacy concerns.

Wintringham told CBC that he's been attending and speaking at rallies for a year now. He's been shown in photos wearing large pins with "$2,800" on them, a reference to the fine amount for violating public health orders around COVID-19.

"The citizen has to question authority and I don't think I should get in trouble for that," he said in an interview.

"I'm trying to get the message that we're being sold just one single narrative and other voices are not being heard."

This does not sit well with some parents. Amanda Harder is concerned about Wintringham working at the school her children attend.

"Hearing this, someone who is directly in contact with our children ... this scares me," she said in an interview.

"I don't want somebody who is putting kids at risk, putting the staff at risk ... they shouldn't be there."

Wintringham said that he's always followed the health rules in his workplace — including the most recent to self-isolate.

"I'm going to follow what they tell me to do. It looks like I won't be going to work for a couple of weeks because I have to self-isolate," he said.

"When I'm at work doing my job, I follow all the protocols. I keep my mask on when I'm around staff or students. But since I work three-to-11, by 4:30 everyone is out of there and then I don't wear the mask the rest of the night because I don't have to, I'm alone."

On April 25, Hugh Cairns principal Ian Wilson sent a letter to parents.

"If the school division is aware of a student or staff member being ordered to self-isolate, the individual is prohibited from entering the school for the extent of the order," the letter said.

Employers watching workers' off-hours activity more: HR expert

Barbara Bowes, a Winnipeg human resources expert, says the pandemic is highlighting tensions between a person's right to their personal beliefs and an employer's right to protect their interests.

"There's a lot of talk about personal rights and [the employee's] ability to speak their own private opinion, etc.," Bowes, president of the human resources consulting firm Legacy Bowes Group, said in a Tuesday interview with CBC Radio's Up To Speed.

"But as soon as you get into the public audience, then you also have to worry about how your attendance, or your voice, or your placards harm your employer's business interests."

Bowes said employers have started taking more of an interest in employees' off-hours activities in the last few years. Something like attending an anti-mask rally, or making nasty comments on social media, can reflect poorly on a business, said Bowes.

"When you're out there, you're brandishing something about the employer, and employers are not going to put up with it," she said.