Anti-lockdown rally draws hundreds as province set to announce new restrictions


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As Manitoba plunged deeper into a third wave of COVID-19 — with more than 500 new cases announced over the weekend — hundreds of demonstrators descended on The Forks Sunday to urge residents to ignore public health orders aimed at curbing the spread of the deadly virus.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 25/04/2021 (643 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

As Manitoba plunged deeper into a third wave of COVID-19 — with more than 500 new cases announced over the weekend — hundreds of demonstrators descended on The Forks Sunday to urge residents to ignore public health orders aimed at curbing the spread of the deadly virus.

At 12:30 p.m. Sunday, Manitoba reported 259 new cases of the virus, 188 of them in Winnipeg. The test-positivity hit 7.1 per cent provincewide and 7.6 per cent in Winnipeg — the highest it’s been since early February.

Less than two hours later, several hundred people gathered in close proximity at The Forks, where they spread conspiracy theories about the virus and spoke out against wearing masks, getting tested or vaccinated.

Several hundred people attended an unauthorized rally at The Forks to protest COVID-19 restrictions Sunday. Officials closed The Forks 'to protect the safety of guests, tenants and employees.' (John Woods / Winnipeg Free Press)

There have been 1,460 new cases of COVID-19 identified in Manitoba in the last week, including 535 in the past two days. There are currently 2,024 active cases in the province, with 139 people in hospital and 37 in intensive care.

Last Monday, Dr. Brent Roussin, Manitoba’s chief public health officer, said the current restrictions were a “last shot” at staving off another lockdown.

On Sunday evening, that lockdown appeared inevitable. A bulletin released at 8:30 p.m. said Roussin and Premier Brian Pallister will be holding a news conference Monday to announce additional public health measures. 

The rally on Sunday drew roughly 300 to 400 people — set against the backdrop of the Canadian Museum for Human Rights — where speakers railed against public health orders, and spread conspiracy theories and misinformation about the pandemic.

The headline attraction was Chris Saccoccia, also known as “Chris Sky”, a leading Canadian anti-mask activist and conspiracy theorist who has risen to online prominence and infamy during the pandemic.

Saccoccia is currently on a cross-country tour to protest against lockdowns and public health restrictions. He did not follow Manitoba’s self-isolation requirements when he arrived in Winnipeg for Sunday’s event.

“This is war and I don’t use that word lightly,” Saccoccia told the crowd of supporters, shortly after encouraging them to go into stores in large groups while not wearing masks.

Anti-mask activist and conspiracy theorist Chris Saccoccia, also known as "Chris Sky,” speaks at the rally. (John Woods / Winnipeg Free Press)

“We will win.”

Amongst the sea of demonstrators gathered at The Forks, numerous placards stood out from the crowd, including one that read: “No mamma I can’t breathe — mask off.” The sign was a reference to George Floyd, the Black man murdered by former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin.

Another placard referenced a discredited conspiracy theory film that argues the pandemic is a ploy by the elites to make money and erode civil liberties. At least one speaker compared the current situation in Canada to 1940s Germany under Nazi rule.

At one point during the afternoon’s event, a local Winnipeg anti-mask activist led the crowd in a chant of “Lock him up! Lock him up! Lock him up!”, referring to Pallister and Winnipeg Mayor Brian Bowman.

After the chant ended, the speaker said Roussin and Dr. Jazz Atwal, Manitoba’s deputy chief public health officer, should also be imprisoned.

Tobias Tissen, the minister of Church of God Restoration, a congregation in rural Manitoba that has been repeatedly fined for breaching public health orders during the pandemic, also spoke at the event and led those gathered in an opening prayer.

The Forks did not give permission to the rally organizers to hold the event, and shut down its facilities for the afternoon “out of an abundance of caution and to protect the safety of guests, tenants and employees.”

Rally attendees speak to a person wearing a mask. (John Woods / Winnipeg Free Press)

While numerous speakers at the rally said they were breaching public health orders in order to support small, independent businesses that need to be open, the result of their demonstration was that several stores at The Forks had to shut down for the day.

Twitter: @rk_thorpe

Ryan Thorpe

Ryan Thorpe

Ryan Thorpe likes the pace of daily news, the feeling of a broadsheet in his hands and the stress of never-ending deadlines hanging over his head.


Updated on Monday, April 26, 2021 5:44 AM CDT: Corrects typo

Updated on Monday, April 26, 2021 6:24 AM CDT: Updates image caption

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