Anti-lockdown rally draws a crowd

Joe McWilliams
Lakeside Leader

Despite being ticketed for contravening the Public Health Act, Benita Pedersen is forging ahead with several more ‘anti-COVID’ rallies, including one in Slave Lake on March 4. She’d held one the day before in Whitecourt and was moving on later in the week to Peace River and Fort McMurray.

Judging by the turnout at the Slave Lake Visitor Information Centre last Thursday, Pedersen may be onto something. Local people pitched in by waving signs at passing motorists, joining Pedersen in some ‘rah, rah’ type of stuff and even taking a turn at the microphone.

Cutting through the hyperbole (there was plenty of it), the gist of the message could probably be summed up something like this: the severity of the pandemic does not justify the harsh measures imposed by government. So stop it and let us get on with our lives.

Or, put another way, ‘The cure is worse than the disease.’

About 100 people turned out for the rally. The only person wearing a mask (as far as we could see) was Lesser Slave Lake MLA Pat Rehn, who came out from his office in the Visitor Info Centre to chat a bit and shake hands. He didn’t stick around for the speeches.

Otherwise, the crowd consisted of a fair number of folks from local churches, a few business owners and others less easily identified. The RCMP were there – as promised – keeping an eye on the scene. So were peace officers from the Town of Slave Lake and M.D. of Lesser Slave River.

Pedersen made a point of thanking the RCMP for “keeping us safe,” and called for a round of applause.

In her opening remarks, Pedersen spoke about a couple of Alberta business owners who had defied the lockdown. One is an Innisfail barber and the other the owner of a restaurant in Mirror, Alberta. She said (or implied) that the defiance by these two businesses (she also mentioned Char’s Railway Café in Smith) influenced the government’s easing of restrictions soon after. The message seemed to be: ‘Let’s keep up the pressure and force the government to remove all restrictions.’

Pedersen does not seem too concerned about vulnerable people catching COVID and dying from it. The numbers are small, she said. You don’t have to be a scientist to understand them.

“It’s not as severe as they make it out to be.”

Seniors, she continued, are telling her “they want to go out and live their lives.”

Pedersen is a resident of Westlock, where she runs a DJ business – or did until COVID-induced restrictions shut it down. According to an article in Town & Country Today, previous ‘Enough is Enough: All Fired Up for Freedom’ rallies in Barrhead, Westlock and Athabasca had earned Pedersen $1,200 fines for violating Alberta Health Services regulations on mass gatherings. There was no word by press time whether Slave Lake RCMP were contemplating similar charges. Staff Sgt. Don Racette told The Leader beforehand officers would be “watching from a distance, to make sure they are practicing all AHS protocols.”

At the moment, outdoor gatherings are limited to 10 people. Protocols include wearing masks and staying two metres apart, which for the most part was not happening at the rally.

Westlock News Publisher George Blais says two of the Enough is Enough rallies drew about 100 people, while the other three he’s aware of drew fewer than that. There have been two each in Barrhead and Westlock, so far, and one in Athabasca.

In Town & Country, Blais wrote: “Pedersen said previously she was inspired to organize local protests after attending rallies in Edmonton and connecting with groups such as Freedom4Canada and We Are All Essential. At the Westlock rally, Pedersen told the crowd, “You can defy the rules, you can come to protests, you can organize a protest, you can take legal action. There’s many ways to do it. Get involved and do something.”

Rally attendees listen to anti-lockdown activist Benita Pedersen of Westlock on Mar. 4.

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