Thousands of unmasked demonstrators marched in Montreal on Saturday to protest COVID-19 public health measures they call excessive and unjustified.
Demonstrators gathered at Montreal’s Olympic Stadium, calling on the Quebec government to lift a nighttime curfew that has been in place in much of the province since January.
They also expressed opposition towards the notion of immunity passport for those who have received a COVID-19 vaccine.
The stadium currently serves as one of the province’s COVID-19 mass vaccination clinics and was closed for the day due to the protest.
Health Minister Christian Dubé said Friday that appointments had been transferred to other clinics in the city.
He said the other clinics had the capacity to honour appointments scheduled at the stadium but deplores the fact protesters are choosing to demonstrate outside the mass vaccination site.
“People have a right to their opinion, but I think they could have left those who are getting vaccinated alone,” Dubé said.
Daniel Pilon, one of the protest’s organizers, said in a Facebook video that the intention was never to block access to the vaccination centre and claimed that the protest was organized near the Olympic Stadium for its visual appeal.
Montreal mayor Valérie Plante tweeted during the protest that she was concerned to see such a demonstration taking place.
“Everyone wants to go back to a normal life, and the sanitary measures are there for that reason,” she tweeted.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau told reporters Friday the planned protest is “deeply disappointing.” Freedom of speech and assembly are important, especially during a pandemic, but protests must be done safely, he added.
“The irony here is that by gathering, people are putting each other at risk, spreading further cases of COVID-19, and extending the time in which we will have to be faced with restrictions and public health measures,” Trudeau said.
Bernier said people at the protest were not anti-vaccine, but “pro-choice and pro-liberty.”
The organizers said in a statement that Saturday’s protest was the first of several planned for the month of May.
Police spokesman Manuel Couture said officers issued a few tickets for non-compliance with sanitary measures. “If we exclude the non-respect of sanitary measures, it was a crowd that was quite peaceful and festive,” Couture said.
Quebec reported 1,101 new COVID-19 cases and seven deaths attributed to the novel coronavirus on Saturday, with one taking place in the past 24 hours.
–with files from Alessia Maratta, Global News