A protest against COVID-19 restrictions, billed as a freedom rally by organizers, drew crowds to the front steps of Kelowna City Hall Saturday, as it has for months.
Despite public health orders and warnings from the mayor and Kelowna RCMP this week, approximately 250 mostly maskless protesters gathered, carrying signs that read “Freedom is essential” and “My rights don’t end where your fears begin.”
Attendees for Saturday’s event, which was publicized as a mega rally, were expected from all over the Interior of B.C., however the crowd size was similar to past gatherings.
Organizer David Lindsay — who already faces several fines of $2,300 for his involvement with past events against public health orders — spoke to the gathering which ended peacefully shortly after 3 p.m.
Meanwhile, a small group of mask-wearing counter-protesters gathered across the street from the event, one carrying a sign that said “Yay science! Yay vaccines!”
The Saturday rally against public health orders has started in Kelowna. People from around the Interior are expected to be here today. In the past this rally hast brought 800+ ppl. But today there are maybe 150 at my estimate. <a href=”https://t.co/2oRLeVT0YN”>pic.twitter.com/2oRLeVT0YN</a>
A verbal confrontation between the two sides ended with a freedom rally protester trying to knock a bullhorn from the hands of a masked counter-protester.
“This is the reason we didn’t have Christmas,” said counter-protester James Munson. “I wasn’t able to see my family and I think we should have more restrictions,” he said.
In a video statement released Wednesday, RCMP Supt. Kara Triance said the march through downtown of the central Okanagan city is unlawful and endangers people living in the community.
“People in Canada have a democratic right to lawful and peaceful protest, but your rights do not supersede public safety,” Triance said in the statement. “We need to find a balance between having a voice and remaining safe during these unprecedented times.”
Anti-mask rallies have taken place in Kelowna on several Saturdays since December, with participants ranging from 100 to 1,000.
Mark Burley, executive director of the Downtown Kelowna Association, says he has been reminding member businesses to be aware of the rallies.
“Call the police if you’re being harassed,” Burley said on CBC’s Daybreak South about the message he gives to downtown businesses.
He says his association hasn’t received many calls for help from businesses about anti-mask rallies. When they have, protesters had already left the scene when the police and association representatives arrived to intervene.