Kaitlyn Hofstra said she doesn’t understand why police in Saskatchewan’s two main cities issued so few tickets to those protesting public health orders.
Last weekend, around 100 people — about half of which were children — met in Saskatoon and around 60 also met in Regina. The day before, the Saskatchewan Health Authority (SHA) issued a COVID-19 exposure alert for an event anti-mask held in Prince Albert, telling everyone who was there to self-isolate. One attendee said they attended both.
Hofstra said she’s worried for the safety of her child because children at the event could have been exposed to the disease and spread it through schools and daycares.
She also said she’s worried for her wife.
“The fear is that (the anti-maskers) are just going to grow and get more powerful and we are going to be unsafe.”
She told Global News she deleted her social media accounts a few days earlier because the comments she saw from anti-maskers are about more than just the pandemic.
She said she believes their actions and their demonstrations belie something more sinister.
“It’s about 100 per cent about power,” she said, adding she was frightened because it seemed like “nothing is being done to stop these people.”
“These are the same people that a month ago were posting, ‘Why is there no straight pride?’ They were posting anti-immigration things.
She said she was frustrated she couldn’t visit her parents last Christmas but police seemingly allow events to take place where people don’t wear masks, don’t have proper physical distancing and don’t abide by gathering limits.
Patrick Maze, president of the Saskatoon Teachers’ Federation, said he was extremely frustrated by the rallies because, “We know that hospitals are filling up, especially in the Regina area and in southern Saskatchewan.”
He said the events, where people who had potentially been exposed to COVID-19 were close to children, puts everyone at risk because the disease could spread through schools.
“We can’t guarantee that all students are going to be safe,” he said.
“Some of their fellow students could have attended the rally and could be sitting beside them in school.”
He said the public has to rely on the justice system and policing to hold people accountable for their “irresponsible” actions.
He also renewed his call for schools in the Saskatoon region to move to online learning.
Global News spoke over the phone with Mark Friesen, who was at the Prince Albert and Saskatoon events.
He said he was not concerned about spreading the disease and called asymptomatic spread “a fallacy” — directly contradicting science.
He said he’s attended rallies, sometimes with thousands of people, in the past and no one has gotten sick.
The SHA COVID-19 alert for the Prince Albert event stated, “there is an increased risk of exposure… where a person or persons attended while infectious…”
Friesen said he had never encountered any bigotry at the rallies.
Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe and opposition leader Ryan Meili both condemned the racist language used at a rally in Regina on Dec. 12, which Friesen attended.
“I think people are hoping, and they’re going to see, the organizers held to account,” Saskatoon Mayor Charlie Clark told Global News Morning.
He said he was happy to see the event was much smaller than previous rallies but said he was also frustrated to see people gathering without masks “when we have these variants (of concern) spreading in our community and infecting the health of our citizens.”
A spokesperson for the Regina Police Service (RPS), in a statement, called the level of attention “appropriate.”
Elizabeth Popowich said officers issued four tickets and are continuing to investigate with the SHA.
“It is possible there may be more tickets issued, but we don’t know that yet,” she said.
She also wrote that handing out a ticket “is not as simple as handing out papers like flyers,” because doing so requires the intended recipient’s personal details.
“As you can imagine, people at these rallies don’t offer that information, nor do they line up to give it to our officers. We are not there to make the situation worse and it could get worse, in an emotionally-charged environment, to step in and start laying hands on people.”
“Another consideration in getting that close is: some of the attendees may be shedding the COVID virus and then you are exposing more people to the virus, including the officers there,” the statement said.
She told Global News Regina Police chose to focus on the organizers of the events.
Saskatoon Police Service (SPS) did not respond to a request for comment by deadline.
The Friday before the anti-mask event, the SPS put out a statement saying officers would be attending to ensure it is peaceful and public health restrictions are enforced.
“The police response to a protest is a balance between protecting the rights of people to express their opinions in a safe and peaceful manner while ensuring the general safety of the community at large,” it said.
It also stated police have issued 25 tickets for health order violations since the pandemic began.
When asked about Hofstra’s concern, Saskatchewan Health Minister Paul Merriman simply said he would let the police conduct their investigation.
He also said now is not the time for anti-mask demonstrations, warning they can lead to outbreaks.
“We’ve seen many many times throughout this (pandemic), one bad situation can turn into multiple cases that can turn into dozens of cases.”
A spokesperson for the Saskatoon Public School division, in an email, wrote, “Our school division is continuing to take direction from local public health officials whom we are in regular contact with about our pandemic response.
“At this time, we have no plans to move to Level 4 across the division.”
A spokesperson for the Greater Saskatoon Catholic School division said the division is aware of the event on the weekend.
“Health officials remind us that the protocols we have in place have created many layers of protection to mitigate and reduce risk,” Derrick Kuntz wrote.
“At the time of writing this response, we do not have an indication there is a significant increase in risk to students or staff that would warrant a switch to online learning.”