Lockdown protestors literally stood and sat upon names of the COVID-19 dead during Saturday’s ‘freedom rally’ in downtown Barrie.
Earlier that morning, someone chalked the names and ages of 100 people who have died from the virus on all levels of cement at Meridian Place, located just below Memorial Square, which honours Barrie’s war dead.
Along with the names were a number of chalked messages to the rally organizers and supporters — ‘Wear a mask’, ‘Don’t Erase Them! (Their Lives Mattered)’ and ‘You are killing our downtown community’. Other messages said there were 23,756 deaths in Canada from COVID, including 7,789 in Ontario alone.
“This is the real Barrie,” Mayor Jeff Lehman said on Facebook about the names and messages.
He has urged people not to attend the weekly rallies.
Barrie city police said about 300 people attended Saturday’s rally.
But Dino Izzi, 63, of Barrie, said it was probably inattention rather than disrespect which led to the crowd standing and sitting on the chalked names.
“It would have been nice if people would have noticed (the names),” said Izzi, who was standing near the cenotaph, well away from the chalked names. “But people don’t look down. People didn’t even notice the stuff.
“People aren’t even looking down. That’s the problem," he added.
Saturday’s two-hour-plus rally was the seventh held in downtown Barrie to protest the lockdown measures by all levels of government to fight the pandemic.
“I think everybody has the right to express their own opinion,” said Luigi Olivieria, 69, of Barrie, who was wearing a mask. “But people are struggling.”
Ella Jones, who wasn’t wearing a mask but was holding a large Canadian flag, came from Muskoka to attend the rally.
“I’m here to defend our Canada, our Canadian freedom,” she said. “There is a pandemic, people have died. But it is important to speak the truth.”
Jones said she was not sure vaccines available to Canadians are the answer.
Izzi, who wasn’t wearing a mask, had two poppies on his cap.
“It’s about our freedom, more than anything else,” he said. “That’s why I have the poppies on. Everybody has individual freedoms and I want the government to see it.
“For the government to say what we can and can’t do…” Izzi said. “But there are more than two sides to this story.”
Saturday’s rally faced visual and audio distractions for its organizers and speakers.
Signs were hung for the rooftops of a nearby building, saying ‘Stay Home Save Lives’ and ‘Spread Love, Not Viruses’.
One man had a loud, portable siren that he carried in a green shopping bag on the fringe of the rally site, sounding off during speeches.
Two other people honked their car horns so long and so loud that Barrie city police officers had a word with them.
One car parked nearby had its four doors and hatchback open, played what sounded like speed-metal music at full volume, and vehicles driving by honked their horns long, whether in support or opposition of the rally.
“They can try to drown us out, but I’m louder,” protest organizer Tyler Nicholson said from the stage.
Police estimated 10 to 15 people were ticketed with $880 fines at Saturday’s ‘freedom rally' at Memorial Place for breaching Ontario’s staff-at-home order.
City police communications co-ordinator Peter Leon said the Provincial Offences notices were for contravening the Reopening Ontario Act.
“We currently have one person, a female, in custody for obstructing police,” Leon said. “That female was being investigated with regards to her attendance at the demonstration and she has failed to provide any person particulars (about) herself. She is currently at headquarters and we are trying to determine who she is. Right now we don’t know who she is.
“She refused to provide her name when asked,” he said. “There is a requirement under the Reopening Ontario Act to identify yourself when asked by a police officer and she refused to do so, so she was arrested for obstructing police.”
Police handed out nine tickets during the previous two Saturdays, because the gatherings are breaching the provincial stay-at-home order.
Ontario moved to a shutdown effective Saturday, April 3, 2021. It limits outside gatherings to five people and they must comply with physical-distancing requirements.
As part of its update to new provincial stay-at-home orders, the city released a statement April 2 that ‘All City of Barrie municipal playground equipment, waterfront fitness equipment, ... skateboard parks, tennis courts, basketball courts and picnic areas/pavilions will be closed to public access. Meridian Place in downtown Barrie will also be closed to the public. Signage will be installed as soon as possible.’
But Lehman has said there will be no fences or barricades used to enforce the closure of Meridian Place.
Nicholson told his audience there would be another rally next Saturday.