In its ninth week and in a new location, Barrie’s anti-lockdown demonstration once again attracted a horde of protesters, most of whom appeared maskless and often greeted one another with out-of-vogue handshakes and backslapping.
And with Saturday’s event — dubbed the Barrie Freedom Rally and held this week at the Sadlon Arena parking lot in the city's south end, featuring bouncy castles and barbecues — came a handful of fines for contravening pandemic-related rules.
The five people charged midway through the event, under the Reopening Ontario Act, were organizers associated with the demonstration, said Barrie police communications co-ordinator Peter Leon.
Of those, four people were identified by police as having broken the rules over several weeks and also received summonses to appear in court. The fines are $750, but with court fees total $880 each.
“We’ve also charged people who are participating in the event and are either speaking or providing some sort of entertainment here today,” Leon said. “This is an unlawful gathering and the event organizers are acting in a manner that is irresponsible. It is contrary to public health guidelines and they’re putting people’s lives at risk.”
But the bottom line with the visible police presence was to ensure its safety and to be on hand in case of conflict. The outdoor gathering, which attracted a crowd of about 350, according to police estimates, remained peaceful.
Organizer Tyler Nicholson led a prayer before encouraging the crowd to sing O Canada.
“I don’t feel that it’s that far gone that we can’t take it back,” he said from the podium. “We’re here to exercise our right.”
Nick Smith, of Orangeville, circulated in the crowd distributing a 12-page newspaper called Druthers with the front-page headline 'Death by Lockdown'.
“I also help in a demonstration in Orangeville on Sundays,” said Smith, who was supporting the effort at Barrie’s event Saturday. “My children ask me when they can play with other kids.”
Another supporter carried a large, yellow 'Don't Tread On Me' flag — a Canadian take on the American Revolution Gadsden flag that features a Canada goose instead of a timber rattlesnake.
Its carrier, who introduced himself as 'Rene', said he represents the People's Party of Canada for the Stouffville area.
Thong-wearing Weldon Hachey appeared in the crowd to cheers and was quickly surrounded by gatherers wanting photos with him. He has become a highly visible staple at the ongoing protests.
“It was a peaceful gathering; there were no issues or concerns,” Leon said as the demonstration concluded. “We will say, though, that the people that did come here were very much aware that this was an unlawful event.
“There will be additional people receiving charges in the days and the weeks to come," he added. "That’s just part and parcel by the warnings provided by the Barrie Police Service.”