Canadian Anti-Hate Network
Despite the fact that Wellington Street outside of Parliament in Ottawa remains clear beyond the normal flow of traffic, the weekly COVID-conspiracy protests continued throughout the country this weekend.
Since early in the pandemic, these protests have consistently taken place across the country, from small towns to big cities. Sometimes as small as a few people standing on a street corner to massive marches parading through the streets, independent and coordinated rallies continue to take up space in Canada.
Notably, this past weekend was the date of the “World Wide Rally For Freedom,” an event occurring every two months, the World Wide Rally applies its branding to already existing COVID-conspiracy protests around the globe.
Starting in 2021, there have been seven WWRs taking place in Canada, according to Drew, an anonymous antifascist researcher who tracks the movement. Before this past weekend, the January 22 WWR coincided with the launch of the convoy. With countless other demonstrations taking place, “official” WWR protests numbered 25 this past weekend, with events in almost every province, including Calgary, Fredericton, Winnipeg, Vancouver, Toronto, Whitehorse, Montreal, and more.
Starting in the German town of Kassel, the rallies’ origins have been attributed to the group Freie Bürger Kassel (Free Citizens of Kassel), according to an investigation by Logically. Themes and language traded in the movement’s online spaces are ripe with theories of a deadly vaccine, masks used as part of a system of control, and large overarching global conspiracies.
While some of the COVID-conspiracy protests bore the branding and title of the WWR, and others did not, little has changed across the movement since the convoy was dismantled.
In Nova Scotia, the announcement ending mandates and the state of the emergency came with the caveat that children would still be required to wear masks in the classroom. This event does not appear to have been acknowledged as an official WWR action.
Protesters continued a weekly march on Saturday. There was also a “Nova Scotia Freedom Conference” where a number of speakers gathered to continue their objections to the province’s COVID policy response and “authoritarian overreach.” Organized by a Dalhousie graduate student, speakers included a pair of previous People’s Party of Canada candidates Scott Spidle and Michelle Lindsay; Dr. Chris Milburn, former head of emergency medicine for the Eastern zone removed during the pandemic for criticizing the health response; “psychology expert” Dr. Rick Mehta, who claims mask and distancing policy can be traced to “satanic worship,” and a handful of other medical professionals objecting to the measures.
Also on Sunday, a small group of demonstrators gathered outside of the Halifax-area home of the province’s chief medical officer of health, Dr. Robert Strang. Strang has long been the target of threats.
The crowd appeared to be less than a dozen people and among them was conspiratorial live streamer and creator of the concept of Diagolon, Jeremy MacKenzie. Police reportedly closed Strang’s neighbourhood street to prevent other protesters from joining and the doctor told CTV Atlantic he and his family received prank calls into the night, but were otherwise unbothered by the congregation.
In Montreal, it appears as though a small march of somewhere between 100 to 200 people took to the streets on Saturday. They ended at a public park where music and speeches were broadcast over a loudspeaker.
Videos posted from the event include common themes of blaming the media for shaping public opinion of the pandemic – as well as against their movement – vaccine conspiracies, and denial of the existence of the virus altogether.
Ontario was home to a number of protests including in Toronto, London, and an unofficial WWR event in Niagra. There’s been a noted spate of infighting among Ontario organizers, and observers noted that both the weather and confusion resulted in a peak of “around 500 people'' appearing outside of the provincial legislature outside of Queen’s Park – a far cry from the thousands that have turned out to march over the course of the pandemic.
Winnipeg was the home of a much-undercovered convoy occupation that carried on several days after the Ottawa iteration of the protest was forced out by law enforcement. Taking place primarily outside of the offices of the city’s branch of the CBC, the protest followed a familiar schedule of through the street marches before arriving at the broadcaster.
Among those in attendance was former Proud Boy turned citizen journalist Todd Ian McDougall who was there to shakily cover the event for his project Winnipeg Alternative Media.
Calgary was probably the most notable protest connected to the WWR over the weekend. It was well attended compared to other actions, but also drew a notable counter-protest from members of the city’s Beltline neighbourhood.
Tensions were high at the event after the week before when members of The Beltline community, who gathered in the street to halt the march of the COVID conspiracy protests, were met with strikes from police officers’ bicycles in order to clear the road for the opposing group.
Beltline resident Jody MacPherson covered the events of this weekend on the ground for the Canadian Anti-Hate Network. Both sides received notices of a court injunction against protests being held in the neighbourhood.
Several arrests were made and there is conflicting information but officially, Police Chief Mark Neufeld stated at a news conference that all of the arrests involved protesters from the convoy. At least one counter-protester was detained.
Ottawa convoy organizer and head of Canada Unity, James Bauder was also in town for an event protesting to free Pastor Artur Pawlowski, who was denied bail in February. The rally’s around “Pastor Art” are a daily event.
Also one of the more active protest scenes of the weekend, British Columbia saw duelling protests take place in Vancouver’s Jack Poole Plaza. On one side stood the official WWR event, while on the other side prolific merchandiser and Holocaust denier Chris “Sky” Saccoccia organized his own action. Various amounts of public posturing ensued from Saccoccia during the event, which ended without incident.
Also, with Victoria the intended destination of Bauder’s latest attempts at a convoy, it will likely remain the province to watch moving forward. A confusing schedule has some participants already on Vancouver Island waiting for the rest of the convoy to arrive. Registered vehicles appear to be mustering at a variety of properties outside the province’s capital city.