The small town of Aylmer has become a centre of controversy as of late when it comes to the duelling perspectives on mask-wearing.
Saturday, the town hosted two protests, one in support of health official and mask-wearing and one dubbed a “Freedom March” against masks and Coronavirus restrictions.
Aylmer police are now estimating that around 2000 people participated in the anti-lockdown march with a parade going through the center of the town along Talbot Street West. Participants were from all over the province, including Hamilton and Toronto.
Police say they are still in the process of reviewing the footage from the event, however, they have issued charges to two people under the Highway Traffic Act for not obeying the rules of the road.
Police say they also responded to an incident where protestors were banging on the windows of the Tim Hortons across from the East Elgin Community Complex and that there was an altercation between protesters and residents that is still being investigated.
A group called The Line Canada describes itself as a civil liberties group that does weekly mobile convoys in different towns. The group urged its supports to join Aylmer’s demonstration, and many of the people at Saturday’s March could be seen holding up signs with the group’s symbol.
“Give us our god-given freedom so we can live again as we want to live,” said Church of God pastor Henry Hildebrandt.
During the march, residents opposed to the demonstration lined the streets with some heated moments with residents who did not want the anti-mask rally in their town.
On Monday, the town declared a state of emergency in response to the second Anti-Masking Freedom March.
Aylmer has seen 90 cases since March, clocking in an overall incident rate of 1,201 cases per 100,000 people, higher than that reported in the city of Toronto.
The community of 7,500 has more than a quarter of all coronavirus cases reported by Southwestern Public Health.
Organizers of a counter-protest earlier in the day say they don’t want people to think the “freedom march” is representative of the whole community.
“Aylmer is a safe place to be, its wonderful place to raise children, and most of the people here are following the guidelines,” Co-organizer of the Aylmer cares demonstration on Saturday, Lori Cowx, told Global News.
“We want people to know that there are a lot of us who are following the rules and who trust our government has our interests at heart to stop the spread of COVID-19.”
The demonstration was on a much smaller scale, with organizers wanting to keep the numbers around 25 to stay within the Provincial guidelines of outdoor gathering limits.
“We are wearing a mask because it’s common sense risk management,” Cowx said.
She said she knows some of the people participating in the ‘freedom march’ and that they are good people who are “just on the wrong side of the issue.”
Respiratory therapist Susanne Heffren also came out to support the Aylmer Care demonstration and talked about how the town has helped to fight COVID-19.
At the beginning of the pandemic, when there was a shortage of PPE in hospitals, Heffren said the Aylmer community came together with farmers, chemical dealers, and auto body shops donating around 1000 N95 masks and 5000 gloves.
“The people of Aylmer have always been generous and looked after each other, and it’s unfortunate there is this animosity going on and as long as everyone stays kind and remembers that difference of opinions is allowed.”View link »