Randy Hillier, an independent MPP for Lanark-Frontenac-Kingston, held a “no more lockdown” rally and march in Belleville Friday, just as Premier Doug Ford was set to announce more restrictions to combat the third wave of the COVID-19 pandemic.
More than 100 people showed up, unmasked, many with signs at Zwick’s Park to hear the founder of No More Lockdown group speak.
At the rally, Hillier said there was “exaggerated fear” over the pandemic, and claimed that the effects of lockdowns were more harmful than they are beneficial, and that lockdowns were infringing on people’s freedoms.
He said “only a very small segment of society are at risk,” which he said were the elderly.
As of Friday, in Hastings Prince Edward where Hillier was speaking, there were 14 people in hospital, including six in the ICU and one on a ventilator.
Just recently, on April 1, a 35-year-old woman with COVID-19 in nearby Prince Edward County died.
Across the province Friday, Ontario reported a record 1,955 people hospitalized with COVID-19 with an all-time high of 701 patients in intensive care units and 480 patients in ICUs on ventilators, with a death toll of 7,664.
Currently, under provincial COVID-19 restrictions, it is illegal to gather in groups larger than five and to leave the house for non-essential purposes. Those who contravene these orders can face hefty fines.
“If you get a ticket from today’s event, write on the back of it ‘I plead not guilty,'” Hillier shouted to responding cheers from the crowd. Hillier himself has been charged under the Reopening Ontario Act for hosting a large gathering. He says his case has been continually deferred.
Hillier also told the crowd that he was recently temporarily suspended from Twitter again, that Facebook is refusing to allow his account to live stream anymore and he has been banned from LinkedIn.
The group then set off to march to Belleville city hall as part of the protest, with many vehicles honking their support or stopping to express their dismay with the group.
Belleville police attended the event.
“The Belleville Police Service respects the rights and privileges of all citizens to peaceful assembly and freedom of expression. The Belleville Police Service also recognizes the rights of the general public, local residents and businesses to enjoy a safe/healthy living environment,” the police said.
The police service said any non-compliance with provincial orders will be investigated.
“We are committed to ensuring that everyone is safe during this event, in order to avoid the need for police and public health involvement,” the police said.
Dr. Piotr Oglaza, medical officer of health for the region, did not specifically respond to a request for comment about the rally, but provided a general statement, which said, in part:
“As we continue to see high case rates and increasing hospitalizations in our community, we urge residents to respect provincial restrictions and make every effort to stay home except for essential reasons. Essential reasons include work, school or daycare, medical appointments, and critical errands such as picking up groceries or prescriptions.“
He said rising cases in the region have been linked to close contact with too many people.
Belleville’s mayor did not respond to a request for comment.