‘Very disappointed’: Kenney not happy with mass anti-mask protest in Calgary

CALGARY — A movement that frames itself as a guardian of constitutional rights and ‘lover of freedom’ once again mobilized to protest the province’s COVID-19 rules and Alberta’s premier has spoken up against the demonstration.

Walk For Freedom staged a march and protest outside Calgary city hall last week to push back against the Alberta government’s rules for mandatory mask wearing and other restrictions in many parts of the province.

After hundreds of people attended, organizers vowed to do it again, so another protest took place at 1 p.m.

After spotting images of crowds gathered, far in excess of the limit of 10 people for outdoor gatherings, Jason Kenney spoke out on Twitter, expressing his disappointment over the situation.

“It’s irresponsible to gather in large numbers, especially at this point in the pandemic,” he wrote. “It shows a disregard for health care workers & the vulnerable. There are lots of ways to protest govt policies without risking viral spread.”

Kenney added that while he recognizes people have the right to protest, that shouldn’t overshadow anyone’s responsibility for public safety.

“Not gathering in large groups is just a common sense way of showing consideration for your neighbours, especially the vulnerable and front line health care staff.”

The Calgary Police Service ticketed six people in connection with last weekend’s rallies, including local activist Artur Pawlowski, who runs the Street Church.

Pawlowski recorded the interaction he had with police officers when they served him the $1,200 fine for violating the Public Health Act as well as the $50 fine for breaking the city’s mask bylaw.

During the encounter, which he posted on YouTube, he called the officers “Gestapo” and accused them of violating his right to protest.

He says tickets and court summons were part of the CPS’ strategy to unfairly target him following last week’s religious service at Olympic Plaza.

“Since when do I need the permission of the premier, prime minister or the mayor of the city to exercise my right to have a peaceful assembly to protest their craziness?”

Walk For Freedom references the tickets in its most recent post and vowed to fight them all in court.

The Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedom says it has sued the province for what it calls the violation of Charter rights, including the freedoms to peacefully assemble and religion.

“If governments violate our Charter freedoms, the onus is on government to demonstrate specifically that their Charter violations are bringing about more good than harm,” said the Justice Centre’s John Carpay.

He says the centre’s court challenge focuses on the Public Health Act, which he says is a clear violation of freedoms.

“Neither Jason Kenney, nor (Alberta’s top doctor) Deena Hinshaw have put forward any persuasive evidence to prove that the lockdowns are saving any lives,” he said. “If I get a ticket, then so be it. I will be arguing for my Charter freedoms in court.”

In a media conference earlier this week, Calgary’s chief of police said the protesters have a “blatant disregard” for the health guidelines that are meant to keep Albertans safe from COVID-19.

“Rest assured, investigations are ongoing and information is being gathered so appropriate enforcement steps can be taken again at the appropriate time and in the appropriate way,” said Mark Neufeld.

Mayor Nenshi also doubled down on his displeasure with the anti-mask protesters.

“Don’t do stuff that puts people at risk. It’s self-indulgence, it’s luxurious and we don’t have the luxury for that right now. It’s deeply, deeply selfish.”

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Similar rallies are expected to take place in Edmonton and Red Deer while Canmore will see another anti-mask protest Sunday.

CTV News estimates more than 1,000 people attended the event at city hall on Saturday. Calgary police did not have a concrete number on how many people attended.

(With files from Tyson Fedor)

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