Supporters at Bernier election night event in Saskatoon flout provincial mask mandate

·2 min read
Maxime Bernier, founder and leader of the People's Party of Canada (PPC), is pictured at PPC HQ at the Saskatoon Inn in Saskatoon, Sask., on the afternoon leading up to election night.  (Richard Agecoutay/CBC - image credit)
Maxime Bernier, founder and leader of the People's Party of Canada (PPC), is pictured at PPC HQ at the Saskatoon Inn in Saskatoon, Sask., on the afternoon leading up to election night. (Richard Agecoutay/CBC - image credit)

People's Party of Canada (PPC) leader Maxime Bernier was in Saskatoon on election night as the relatively new right-wing party gained votes throughout the country, but failed to win a single seat.

Taking the stage to a chant of "freedom," Bernier told supporters the PPC will only continue to gain traction in future elections and that this was a historic night.

But Bernier's campaign event, held in a city that is a current COVID-19 hotspot, may have put him and his supporters in violation of Saskatchewan's public health policies.

Many of the supporters in attendance were not wearing masks. As of Friday, Sept. 17, masks were once again required in all indoor public spaces in Saskatchewan.

Bernier said he would not ask his supporters to comply with the provincial rules.

"All of these people are responsible individuals, and they will be responsible for their actions," he said. "And I believe that imposing a mask inside is unconstitutional [and] illegal."

Mario Milanovski, the PPC candidate for Regina-Wascana, said he believes Bernier decided to hold his campaign event in Saskatoon specifically because of the province's relatively permissive public health orders.

"[Bernier] is in Saskatchewan because we still have some freedoms left in Saskatchewan," said Milanovski. "In Quebec, he wouldn't be able to be in an indoor space with a lot of supporters because they are implementing all those measures where people are not allowed to assemble in indoor spaces."

When asked if he was concerned that any of his supporters may have contracted COVID-19 at the event, Bernier was clear that he does not see that as his responsibility.

"People who showed up, they are responsible," he said. "And if they decided not to wear their mask, that is their responsibility."

While the event was underway, the Saskatoon Police Service tweeted that it had been made aware of "concerns about masking at a local election event," — though it did not name the specified event or party involved — and would be consulting with public health officials to determine next steps.

Saskatoon mayor Charlie Clark also tweeted that he had "heard the concerns about a federal campaign event in Saskatoon not following public health orders." He said he shares those concerns, particularly given the current high rate of COVID-19 in the city.

Kevin Boychuck, the PPC candidate for Saskatoon West, was at Bernier's campaign event throughout the evening.

He said he never saw police visit the event, but that the province's public health orders are a symptom of "medical tyranny."

"It's a culture of fear, and if they like to have their government take care of them and say that people are getting cases, then I guess we have to live by the culture of fear," he said.

With 92.5 per cent of polls reporting throughout Canada, the PPC were projected to take 5.1 per cent of the vote share, totalling approximately 726,000 votes.

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