Local authorities are aware of — and preparing for — a potential “freedom rally” in Collingwood this weekend.
Social media posts advertise the rally for Saturday, May 1 at noon.
Mayor Brian Saunderson told CollingwoodToday he's learned the protest is being organized by a group from outside of Collingwood and they have held similar events in other communities in Ontario during the lockdown.
"We are in the third wave of the pandemic with infection numbers higher than ever, this is not the time for a public rally," said Saunderson. "I ask the organizers to cancel the rally and the residents of Collingwood to stay away for the health and safety of our community."
Sgt. Martin Hachey, communications officer for the Collingwood and The Blue Mountains OPP, said local police knows of the planned event. He said there will be officers in the area for the duration of the demonstration.
Collingwood CAO Sonya Skinner emailed a statement to CollingwoodToday indicating the town is collaborating with OPP to offer bylaw enforcement resources.
“We have seen advertisement widely in Collingwood and well beyond,” Skinner said in the email. “We have not heard from any organizers directly, and would urge them to contact the town or OPP such that we could better understand what is planned.”
She urged people in Collingwood and those planning to visit to abide by the current public health advice and provincial restrictions.
“Even with proactive plans in place, by their nature, this type of protest is unpredictable and we are hoping that people will not endanger their own safety and that of others by physically gathering or other non-compliance with Ontario’s shutdown and stay-at-home orders,” said Skinner. “We are all looking forward to reducing infection levels and enjoying our town spaces and re-opening businesses as soon as possible.”
The Simcoe Muskoka District Health Unit said it will continue to liaison with the police and municipality on any enforcement issues, as is the case with any rally that has taken place in Simcoe-Muskoka during the pandemic.
“From an education perspective, the health unit recommends against participation in such rallies as they pose a risk of transmission,” read a statement from the health unit.
In June 2020, when there were several anti-racism demonstrations in the region and beyond, the health unit issued a letter with instructions for safe protesting, urging physical distancing between participants, use of masks, and not attending when you are ill.