CAO says charge against C-K Freedom Group organizer is reasonable

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By Jenna Cocullo, Local Journalism Initiative

The organizer of a Chatham-Kent protest against COVID-19 restrictions has been charged for holding a march with more than 100 people in attendance.

A 32-year-old Wallaceburg woman has been issued a Provincial Offences Act Summons for failing to comply with an order under the Reopening Ontario Act, 2020, section 10.1(1).

On Nov. 21, the Chatham-Kent Freedom Group held a rally in Tecumseh Park, Chatham, followed by a march through the downtown core. The Chatham-Kent Police Service and the Municipality of Chatham-Kent By-Law Enforcement investigated the event and confirmed that the number of attendees exceeded the numbers permitted for an outdoor gathering.

“During these difficult and challenging times, those jeopardizing public safety and contradicting the law will be held accountable to the courts. The law is clear and requires responsible action,” chief Gary Conn stated.

Legislation states that a person convicted of this offence is liable to a fine of not less than $10,000 and not more than $100,000, and could include a term of imprisonment of not more than one year.

Chatham-Kent’s CAO Don Shropshire called the charges reasonable, stating that from a municipal standpoint, information was shared publicly prior to the march indicating that there would be no issues if marchers protested peacefully and adhered to public health guidelines that were in place.

“If the police have laid charges, my understanding is that they did not respect the guidelines that should be followed and there’s consequences for that. It’s not like we’re trying to get people. We’re trying to educate in advance and get people to take reasonable precautions so we don’t have activities that are going to encourage the spread of COVID,” he said.

No freedom march protesters were charged through the health unit, according to Dr. David Colby, Chatham-Kent’s medical officer of health.

Many COVID restriction protestors have been getting fined throughout the province. Supporters of the protestors have pointed to the Black Lives Matter rallies, held in late-May and early-June, saying demonstrators then did not get fined for violating rules.

While CK Police Services can’t speak for other municipalities, in an e-mail to The Voice, Deputy Chief Kirk Earley explained that in the early stages of COVID-19, the restrictions surrounding the pandemic were new to everyone, and they took more of an educational approach.

“We approached the COVID-19 restrictions with education as our main focus, and enforcement as a last resort,” he stated. “Unfortunately, since that time we have regressed to the yellow protective category and more importantly our citizens have had ample time to become educated in respect to the current laws, which have now been in place for some eight months.”

At the time of the recent Freedom March, there were 32 active cases and three workplace outbreaks, reported the day before.

CK Public Health does not keep a record of active cases each day, but Chatham Voice articles stated there were only 10 active cases a few days before the BLM march in June, seven of which were linked to the one Greenhill Produce workplace outbreak.

During the two-week period before the BLM rally, only five new cases were reported in the municipality.

“The variables surrounding these two events are clearly different, and as a result they were treated and handled differently,” Earley stated.

Colby said he does not know if the police charges will deter any future gatherings.

“I can’t speculate on what people are going to do. But there seems to be a polarized view; some people are denying the very existence of this pandemic and I don’t understand that kind of thinking,” he said. “It (more gatherings) concerns me but it’s not something I lose sleep over.”

The woman is scheduled to appear in court on Jan. 6, 2021.

2 COMMENTS

  1. Well.. If this isn’t B.S., don’t know what is… We are Canadian… Not Communist anywhere… We have the rite as Canadians to speak up against crap like this… And it is crap… With SO MUCH being said, no truth… A Friggin Flu Bug going around… Cold weather, bringing colds… And this,, a B. S Virus.. With a 99+% recovery…
    LUCKY a million people didn’t show up… And should have… Believe what you will.. That’s our rite as well..

  2. Our rights and freedoms are being taken and most are supportive of this gross overstepping of our rights to disagree- Such Crap.
    I am not against mask wearing(although mostly ineffective) but since it has become mandatory I no longer go anywhere they are required. Such foolishness to mandate an ineffective encroachment on our freedoms- it is nothing more than left wing virtue signaling and government overreach.
    We have enough laws and I don’t want anyone making laws for me simply because I do not agree with their biased thinking. Masks don’t work and I (generally) won’t comply.
    Someone please tell me this woman has a crowd funding website so I can donate and support her legal battle.

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