Anti-mask protesters make their voices heard at Lethbridge city hall

COVID-19: Anti-mask protesters fill Lethbridge city council chambers
WATCH: A group of roughly 80 protesters made their voices heard at Lethbridge City Hall on Tuesday, kicking off the week’s city council meeting by filling council chambers to show disapproval for the city’s mandatory mask bylaw. Danica Ferris has more.

The excitement at Tuesday’s meeting of city council started before the meeting even began, with a group of roughly 80 protesters gathering to voice their disapproval of Lethbridge’s mandatory mask bylaw.

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The group was organized by local gym owner Lee Mein, who said he felt like it was time to take real action.

“I see a lot of people complaining online about how they don’t like the mask bylaw and how it’s an unjust thing they have brought in, where it’s not necessary with the numbers that we have and there’s no reason for it,” Mein said.

“So action speaks, and you’ve got to do something to make something happen.”

Read more: Lethbridge becomes latest city to pass mandatory masking bylaw

Bylaw 6239 — the Temporary Mandatory Face Covering Bylaw — was passed on Aug. 24 and includes the potential for a $100 fine, but Mein said the prospect of a ticket wasn’t going to deter him.

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“I don’t feel they have any legal right to what they’re saying and what they’re doing, and if it goes to court, fine. Let’s go to court,” he said.

“I can’t sue them if they don’t present me with a ticket. So if they want to go down that road, let’s go down that road.”

City officials confirmed to Global News that zero tickets were handed out at Tuesday’s demonstration despite almost all of the protesters not wearing face coverings.

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Read more: Lethbridge gym to open June 1 against official health protocols

With Mein leading the way, the group stormed into council chambers before Tuesday’s meeting had a chance to begin.

Most city officials cleared out of council chambers as protesters were told the demonstration wasn’t the proper protocol to be heard by city council.

Read more: Coronavirus: Wearing non-medical masks will help others but not you, Tam says

Councillors Blaine Hyggen and Ryan Parker — who voted against the bylaw two weeks ago — stayed in chambers. Hyggen and Parker were both advocates for public engagement during deliberation of the bylaw.

“I think people are really frustrated that they didn’t have the opportunity to have their voices heard,” Parker said.

“I think today, coming in here, I wouldn’t look at it as a protest. It was just an opportunity to get their voices heard. It was very symbolic of a lot of people in the community that are frustrated with the mask bylaw.”

Read more: Coronavirus: City of Lethbridge requires face coverings in over a dozen city-owned facilities starting Friday

Mayor Chris Spearman exited council chambers while the unmasked group occupied it.

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“It puts us in a difficult position as city council,” Spearman said. “You know we want people to respect decorum. We did give people opportunities to contact the council, and people are still contacting council with their personal views on the mask bylaw.”

When asked his thoughts on zero tickets being handed out at Tuesday’s demonstration, Spearman said he feels the bylaw has always been more about education than enforcement. The mayor added that he hopes residents continue to abide by the bylaw for the safety of the entire community.

Read more: ‘This is not the time to be selfish’: How face masks became a mirror of humanity amid COVID-19

Health officials have recommended masks as a way to prevent the spread of coronavirus throughout the pandemic.