Kelowna RCMP say police are investigating an allegation that a staff member at Orchard Park Shopping Centre was threatened on Saturday by someone who was part of a group of anti-mask demonstrators.
Officers initially responded to the mall to deal with an allegation that some members of a protest group had refused to wear masks in the mall and then refused to leave when staff asked them to, police said.
One mall patron, who witnessed the anti-mask protest, described seeing around 20 to 30 people not wearing masks and singing O Canada.
“Everybody has a right to protest…but when there is a public health order and it’s a pandemic you need to follow public health orders. Go protest on the street with your signs, try and get attention that way, but not inside a mall where it can seriously put other people’s health at risk,” Nicole Blomerus, who was in the mall on Saturday, said.
One Kelowna resident, whose son works at the mall, said the young man, who is immune-compromised, was surrounded by unmasked anti-mask demonstrators who were telling him to, “Take off your f—–g mask.”
The mother said security staff responded quickly and moved the group along.
She estimates the whole confrontation lasted around 20-30 seconds.
The Kelowna mother does not believe her son’s experience is part of the police threats investigation.
Police said after officers responded to the mall and spoke to demonstrators, the group agreed to leave the shopping center “without further incident.”
“While on scene, investigators determined that an individual from the group had allegedly threatened a staff member of the mall but had left prior to police attendance,” Cst. Solana Paré said in a statement.
The RCMP is continuing to investigate that threat allegation.
Enforcement a last resort
The protest at the mall comes amid a string of anti-mask confrontations in the Okanagan.
Kelowna RCMP said they’ve responded to “several calls for service in regards to disturbances at businesses related to requirements to wear non-medical masks and/or to sanitize upon entry where patrons have been refused service.
“Individuals have the right not to attend the business if they decide not to wear a protective mask to help prevent the spread COVID-19. We highly encourage everyone to respect provincial health orders for their safety and the safety of others,” Const. Solana Paré said in a statement to Global News.
The Kelowna RCMP said it remains focused on educating people about the COVID-19 safety measures.
“Enforcement is typically seen as a last resort, but one that can be used if the circumstances warrant,” Paré said.
Masks are mandatory in all indoor public places in B.C.
The provincial government said there are exemptions for people who can’t put on their own masks and babies who are less than two years old.
Across B.C. businesses are being asked to back-up the province’s mask mandate by telling customers about the policy.
The province says patrons can be refused service if they won’t put on a mask and if staff are feeling unsafe or threatened, they should call the police.
– with files from Shelby Thom