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UPDATED: Freedom Rally draws over 100 to hear anti-COVID restriction speakers, fines issued

Participants with anti-mask, anti-government, QAnon, pro-Trump signs fill out crowd for event; police later issue four fines for violating public health order
Around 100 people from around Saskatchewan took part in a Freedom Rally in Moose Jaw on Saturday afternoon, protesting the ongoing government restrictions due to the COVID-19 pandemic as well as expressing support for right-wing causes in Canada and the United States.

The event took place on the corner of Thatcher Drive and Main and featured a series of speakers offering their take on the current restrictions designed to slow the spread of the disease in addition to rallying for an opportunity to have their own experts heard.

Participants carried a wide range of signage, ranging from anti-mask and anti-government restriction slogans to anti-Liberal Party and anti-Trudeau beliefs with even a handful of QAnon and Trump supporters mixed in.

The rally was the third of its kind to take place in the province, with previous rallies happening in Saskatoon and Regina just before Christmas.

Moose Jaw Police Service was on hand monitoring the event, and organizer Mark Friesen assured the crowd that police had said no fines would be issued, even saying that he was told people should gather in pods of 10 and that based on his knowledge that wasn't part of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, so they could do as they wish.

Hours later, the Moose Jaw Police Service announced that a number of violations of the Public Health Order were observed, and four tickets pursuant to that order had been issued. Their investigation was also continuing.

Even with the wide range of views and opinions in the crowd, the focus of the day remained on the restrictions, something that one of the organizers who hailed from Saskatoon but wished to remain anonymous -- citing “the crazy times we’re in” -- expanded on.

“It’s good to see support, we need more,” he said while sporting a ‘mask exempt’ button. “If people care about their freedom, they’ll come down here and fight towards the same ultimate goal. And that’s for our politicians to listen to us and work for us, where right now they dictate what we’re doing.”

One oft-repeated sentiment through the day was letting medical professionals with differing opinions on COVID-19 have their say.

“We’d like to have a forum where we could all speak, introduce our facts, our specialists, our scientists, doctors and nurses that have a little different narrative than (Sask. Chief Medical Health Officer Shaqib) Shahab and his cronies are putting forward. We have experts with a completely different narrative, so why can’t we have a forum to discuss this? If it’s about health, why can’t it be a difference of opinion, why is there on narrative and one narrative alone?”

One of the rally’s main promotional pushes touched on what they feel is a violation of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms due to the ongoing pandemic restrictions.

“We feel our freedom of speech has been defeated, our freedom to gather has been defeated through the tickets and the fining that is going on… as responsible citizens, the greatest patriots are the ones who question the government,” he said. 

Multiple rally speakers pointed out that one of the most important things as of now is how more and more people are taking up the same kind of beliefs and asking questions. 

“It’s growing, there’s no question about it,” the organizer said. “People are waking up to the facts. This has gone on long enough. We’re in the 11th month now and there’s a lot of information out there. The mainstream media has one narrative and one narrative alone, and anyone who questions that narrative gets cancelled… There should be open dialogue, seeing how few people have died from COVID-19 and the survivability being over 99 per cent.

“And all these measures are harmful in their selves with the drug overdoses, alcoholism, suicide and all those kinds of things. Businesses going bankrupt, there are a lot of social problems that are happening.”

Similar sentiments were delivered by the event’s main speakers, including Friesen, who through a near 20-minute speech said support is growing for their movement, but they are being held back by the fear of repercussions for holding anti-government restriction beliefs; angrily adding that public debate with their health professionals is being stifled and prevented and “information that’s out there isn’t being brought up, we want the truth and the only way to get there is with open debate”. 

Friesen also brought up the belief that the Charter of Rights and Freedoms protects citizens from restrictions and fines while railing against the media’s reporting of case numbers and the idea that the COVID-19 PCR test is inaccurate as well as touching on other anti-medical establishment facts.

Chey Craik, the People’s Party of Canada representative for Moose Jaw in the most recent election, also spoke at the event, talking about how the public only wants the truth and facts while touching on deaths being reported as COVID-caused instead of COVID-related as well as Friesen’s idea that information isn’t complete, too much ambiguity exists and debate needs to happen -- in addition to holding elected officials accountable for what happens due to the restrictions.

Organizers are planning further rallies in the future, with times, dates and places yet to be announced.