‘We don’t want you here’: St. Thomas mayor responds to anti-lockdown protest

Protesters at Aylmer 'Freedom March' on November 7, 2020. Sawyer Bogdan / Global News

St. Thomas Mayor Joe Preston was blunt in his message to the organizers of the so-called Freedom Rally planned for his community this weekend: “We don’t want you here … stay home.”

Last week, a demonstration supported by The Line Canada in Aylmer saw around 2,000 people from across the province gather in the town of 7,500.

The Line Canada describes itself as a “civil liberties group” that does weekly mobile convoys in different towns.

Another demonstration is planned for the town of St. Thomas on Saturday with people expected to gather at Memorial Arena and travel northbound along the Whistle Stop Trail to Moore Street.

Read more: St. Thomas businesses prepare for protest against coronavirus health measures

Preston said rally organizers were asked not to come due to the current COVID-19 pandemic but said they declined.

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“Our community has been very clear, and we don’t know why you are protesting in St. Thomas,” Preston said.

“What has St. Thomas done to you?”

Preston praised the people of St. Thomas for coming together to support one another during the pandemic.

“We currently only have one active case, and we would like to keep it that way,” he said.

St. Thomas has seen a total of 51 cases of COVID-19 since the start of the pandemic.

Preston said St. Thomas police would “do all they can” to collect enough information to fine the people participating in the rally on Saturday.

Under current health guidelines, all outdoor gatherings in Ontario are limited to 25 people.

Read more: Coronavirus: 9 cases, 13 recoveries in London-Middlesex; 6 cases in Huron-Perth

Health Canada has said that wearing a non-medical mask or face covering can help prevent the spread of COVID-19 by lowering infection rates and/or transmission in the community.

Many businesses in St. Thomas have planned to close their doors in response to the demonstration due to fear of people not wearing masks entering their establishments.

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“The community does not want you here, and businesses are suffering …You are causing them a lack of business tomorrow (Saturday) and that’s not what good community members do to each other,” Preston said.

“We have a business community that has faced numerous challenges this year, and this is one more unnecessary burden to them,” CEO of the St. Thomas Chamber of Commerce, Paul Jenkins, said on Tuesday.

Read more: Trudeau says holiday gatherings are on the line unless people act now

When asked if there was another way to spread their message without impacting businesses, George Roche, executive director of The Line Canada, dismissed concerns over public health, saying it was their decision to close.

Southwestern Public Health, which includes St. Thomas has seen at least 415 cases and a total of 1,323 cases in Middlesex-London as of Friday.