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Peterborough police ‘can’t charge them all’ but ready for anti-lockdown protest with Bernier, Hillier

Click to play video: 'Peterborough police and health officials prepare for what could be largest anti-lockdown protest yet' Peterborough police and health officials prepare for what could be largest anti-lockdown protest yet
April 24th's anti-lockdown protest looks to be the biggest yet with Independent MPP Randy Hillier and leader of the federal People's Party of Canada Maxime Bernier planning to make an appearance. Peterborough Public Health and Police Services warn people to stay home and not attend these events, but both groups are preparing for what could be a superspreader event – Apr 23, 2021

Peterborough’s top cop won’t say if additional police resources will be added for an anti-lockdown protest Saturday which has garnered national attention on social media.

“I’m not going to talk about the police response for tomorrow,” Peterborough Police Service Chief Scott Gilbert said during Friday’s COVID-19 pandemic update hosted by Peterborough Public Health. “Obviously there’s a reason why we have plans and we like to keep them to ourselves. We’ll see how things unfold tomorrow.”

Read more: Peterborough mayor tells ‘travelling clown convention’ of Bernier, Hillier to avoid anti-lockdown protest

Peterborough police have issued tickets under the Reopening Ontario Act for the weekly protests — organized by a group called No More Lockdowns Canada — held at Confederation Square across from city hall, including four last Saturday. First offences are out-of-court $880 tickets, subsequent ones are court-summoned tickets with fines up to $5,000 or more.

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However, this week Maxime Bernier, leader of the federal People’s Party of Canada, and Randy Hillier, independent MPP for Lanark-Frontenac-Kingston have stated they will be there this Saturday and have publicly invited people to attend.

Global News Peterborough directly asked the chief if officers would ticket either Bernier or Hillier if they attend on Saturday — a violation of current Ontario stay-at-home and lockdown orders.

“We’re, as I said before, we’re prepared to take enforcement and action where it’s necessary. And I’ll leave it at that.”

Peterborough politicians — including Mayor Diane Therrien, MP Maryam Monsef and MPP Dave Smith — have asked that Bernier, Hillier and any supporters to “stay home,” calling the protests superspreaders and in violation of current provincial lockdown and stay-at-home orders to address the COVID-19 pandemic.

Read more: Ontario issuing stay-at-home order, declares 3rd state of emergency amid COVID-19 pandemic

Gilbert echoed their sentiments, noting Peterborough and area has a high volume of vulnerable and elderly residents and two neighbouring First Nations (Curve Lake and Hiawatha) that are all at-risk.

“Quite honestly, people need to listen,” he said. “There is a time to have your voice heard. But having your voice heard shouldn’t be at the expense or risk to others.”

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Dr. Rosana Salvaterra, medical officer of health, says protests without proper use of masks and social distancing can be superspreaders of the virus. However, she says there is no known confirmed COVID-19 case linked directly to participating in public protests, but that she can’t rule it out.

“I’m not aware that we have,” said Salvaterra. “But every day we have a number of cases where we have no link. So there is community acquisition occurring. So I can’t rule it out even though I may not have a direct link.”

Read more: Ontario police forces to focus on education rather than enforcement of COVID-19 orders

Gilbert says despite public requests, police simply can’t “charge them all,” referencing the G20 protests in Toronto in 2010 with the logistics of crowd dynamics and safety of officers and participants.

“We don’t have the ability or the authority to cattle an entire crowd and funnel them out into one point and give them one ticket,” he said.

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Gilbert says police have a duty of maintaining the peace at a protest but also balancing their ability to do enforcement and ensuring people are held accountable. He noted current legislation doesn’t permit police to be “preemptive” in keeping people from travelling to different communities.

“We have a duty to keep our community safe, but we also have a duty — despite this being an illegal protest — to keep them safe,” he said.

“I’d be happy to set up the table there and — if they want to make a public statement about the rules — they can all line up socially distanced and we’ll give each of them a ticket — if that’s what they want to do advance their cause. But somehow I doubt they’ll do that.”

The chief notes some of the protests have also had participants with small children in attendance.

“The last thing you want to do is provoke a crowd — that is peaceful — into violence and have a stampede or any kind of chaos occur where any of these small children could be injured,” he said. “There’s a lot of different considerations — it’s not as simple as saying ‘there’s a red light you have to stop for it.’ There’s a lot of moving parts.

Gilbert also suggests anyone who opposes the anti-lockdown protesters can assist police by identifying individuals shown on media coverage.

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“We can’t charge them all at the protests but we have been doing follow-up investigations and have been laying charges when offenders are identified.”

Gilbert says it’s “ironic” protesters will gather and stand on the war cenotaph which represents residents who fought in the war for freedom.

“They’re going to come and stand on that monument and risk infecting some of the elderly in our community whose names are reflected on that monument as having gone off to war to protect them. I think that’s a shame.”

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