A second “Freedom Rally” and march to protest COVID-19 restrictions at the East Elgin Community Complex (EECC) on Saturday, Nov. 7 drew up to 2,000 people.
The event attracted participants from all across Ontario, including Kitchener, Hamilton, and Toronto. Rally attendees lined Talbot Street in front of EECC, sometimes chanting “freedom” and displaying a variety of signs, including “COVID-19 = Evil Agenda,” “Do what is right, not what is easy,” and “You stand for nothing, you fall for everything.”
Counter-protestors, media, Aylmer Police, Elgin County OPP were in attendance. “Freedom Rally” supporters listened to a series of speakers, then marched down Talbot Street, heading towards the bandshell in Palmer Park, where the protest was held two weeks earlier.
The speakers warned of the alleged dangers of vaccinations and complained the government measures to curb COVID-19 spreading were unconstitutional.
Aylmer Police and Elgin Ontario Provincial Police shut down Talbot Street when the march began. They stayed in one lane along Talbot Street but filled the entire width on Sydenham.
Eastbound traffic on Talbot was shut down for about 45 minutes, and westbound for less time.
“I’m relieved and thankful that no one was hurt,” said Aylmer Mayor Mary French on Monday, Nov. 9, adding she was confident in her decision to declare a state of emergency in town, in preparation for the rally, on Monday, Nov. 2.
While the event was dubbed a “peaceful protest” by event organizer Kimberly Charlton Neudorf, several downtown businesses closed their doors to avoid potential conflict with protestors who refuse to wear face coverings indoors. Saturdays would normally be busy for downtown retailers.
Aylmer Police Inspector Nick Novacich said a fight broke out near the Complex during the speeches, and is currently being investigated as assault. Video footage on YouTube showed David Menzies of Rebel News Network interviewing a group of counter protestors across from the EECC.
One woman shouts at Mr. Menzies to put on a mask, which prompts him to approach her with his microphone. A masked man intervenes, and knocks the microphone away. A brief scuffle ensued.
A man on Sydenham Street used his garden hose to spray water on or near people marching past his home during the protest. An Aylmer police officer warned him that he could be charged with assault.
Another incident took place at Tim Hortons, across from the Complex. The store closed their dining area for the day, opting to keep their drive-thru open. Protestors knocked on the doors and windows repeatedly attempting to get inside. Restaurant staff called the police, and the protestors dispersed.
Inspector Novacich said several Highway Traffic Act charges were laid.
“One vehicle had a 12-year-old and 15-year-old in the back of a truck, and the person operating the vehicle was not licensed,” he said. “In another truck, a child was standing out the sunroof holding up a sign. That truck was stopped and dealt with.”
“There were several drivers with cell phones in their hand trying to film the event,” added Inspector Novacich.
Another rally is scheduled on Saturday, Nov. 14 in St. Thomas. A spokesperson for Southwestern Public Health said the health unit had no further comment on the matter. It had earlier warned of the dangers of large events being particularly risky for spreading COVID-19.
About a dozen local businesses closed early, closed all day, or altered service delivery on Nov. 7, including the Gordita Shop, Campbells Office Pro, Epiphany, InStyle Salon & Spa, The Flower Fountain, and McDonald’s.
“Aylmer is a small town with a big heart,” said Elgin County Warden Dave Mennill in a statement. “The business community is vibrant and diverse allowing residents to find everything they need in close proximity to home. This availability of goods and services is crucial to the viability of the rural lifestyle. Local business owners are our friends, neighbours and family members and I encourage everyone to support their success.”
“The strength of our business community was evident this past weekend and we will continue to stand together,” said Nicole Pressey Wiebenga, executive director of the Aylmer and Area Chamber of Commerce.
A “demonstration of support,” for COVID-19 health policies, the town of Aylmer, elected officials, front line workers, first responders, local businesses and veterans took place in various places throughout downtown Aylmer on Saturday morning, Nov. 7, before the “Freedom Rally”.
Event promoter Dain Couture said the event was purposely scheduled for Saturday morning so that it would not clash with the hours of the freedom march.
About 30 counter-protestors, dispersed throughout downtown Aylmer, held up various signs such as “No Mask, No Compassion,” “We Support Mayor French,” and “Love Thy Neighbour as Thyself.” Some passing drivers honked in support.
The group collected dozens of donations for the Aylmer Corner Cupboard at a picnic table in Palmer Park, including a $40 McDonald’s gift card donated by the Aylmer Legion.
“We're not about numbers in any way, it's about the fact that Aylmerites do care and this was evident,” said Mr. Couture, who has been an Aylmer resident for about four months.
He recently created a Facebook group called Aylmer Ontario and Area, Pro-Mask, Pro-Science movement, which has quickly picked up traction.
“Within 24 hours we had over 200 members,” said Mr. Couture. The group now has about 550 members.
On Saturday, Nov. 7, the province announced 1,132 new COVID-19 cases, marking the largest single-day increase in Ontario to that point. The numbers have been higher since.
Asked earlier what constitutional rights were being violated by the COVID-19 measures, Ms. Charlton Neudorf referred to a Vaccine Choice Canada lawsuit naming multiple government officials, who “I have been working directly” with. She said masks put “a disproportionate burden on individuals with disabilities, such as asthma, emphysema or trauma-based phobias of breathing obstructions.”
The province has allowed that anyone with difficulties wearing a mask due to medical conditions were exempt from wearing one and businesses may not ask for proof of exemption.
She said lockdowns that forced the closing of some businesses earlier in the pandemic, to prevent the spread of the virus were “extreme, unwarranted and unjustified” and self-isolation measures were “not scientific, nor medically based nor proven.”
About restrictions of movement and quarantining, she said the Charter of Rights and Freedoms says, “Every citizen of Canada has the right to enter, remain and leave Canada.”
Regarding religious freedom, which was a topic at both rallies, she said “a number of constitutional lawyers are confident that these restrictions will be judicially overturned.”
She didn’t say what religious freedoms were being violated. Many or most churches in the area have offered an online service, with some allowed back in limited numbers, to allow for distancing and keeping gatherings small.
Asked how Ms. Charlton Neudorf – an active author and commentor on social media – decides which information is accurate and which is false, she said she leaves it to the “basis of evidence.” Though COVID-19 has highlighted for her the degrees of accuracy in a subject. “Unfortunately, the recent trend is away from allowing that process of disagreement, and different interpretation, to interplay towards finding more accuracy and more truth. And this is largely because of government interference and censorship, which cascades through the media, and finally through social medial as well.”
“One of the guiding principles that I try to apply when I approach an issue, especially a controversial one, is to say, ‘Does this issue point towards more freedom, or less freedom?’”
Additional questions were sent to Ms. Charlton Neudorf Monday, including: What are your future plans? What is the goal going forward – having COVID rules struck down?;
You sell shirts that say “The media is the virus.” Some signs on Saturday said the same thing. Do you advocate harm to journalists, or against a free press?;
You have talked about the importance of freedom for parents to choose how they raise their children. Do you support corporal punishment? Seatbelt use in automobiles?
Veronica Reiner, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Aylmer Express