I have been observing and documenting anti-mask rallies for about a year.
My interest was piqued by accident. Last summer, I inadvertently found myself trapped in a sea of unmasked people at Yonge-Dundas Square. I remember being struck by the signs (some handmade, others professionally printed) disparaging masks and the people who wear them. I was also taken aback by the number of pro-Trump flags and hats. There was what looked like a prayer circle. The scene was surreal; it felt strange to see such a large crowd after months of minimal human contact. I figured the gathering was a one-off event. But I was wrong. The demonstrations continued week after week, undeterred by police or public health prohibitions on large gatherings.
I became increasingly intrigued. Eventually, my morbid curiosity won out. I started shadowing the crowd to take photos and videos, in an effort to chronicle the crusade against masks and lockdowns.
As a criminal and housing lawyer with a background in international development, I am keenly aware that governments and institutions do not always act with good intentions. I have studied the interplay between local, regional, national, and global politics. I am mindful that ‘objective’ disciplines, such as medicine, for example, can be weaponized against marginalized communities deemed expendable. Having said all this, there is no doubt in my mind that COVID is a real and deadly threat. The situation is bleak, and inequities are being exacerbated and entrenched by poor policymaking at all levels.
On Saturday, I attended the latest anti-masker parade downtown Toronto. Similar rallies are taking place across Canada, in large cities and small towns alike. It is with a fair degree of confidence that I say things will get worse before they get better.
Excellent brand placement for pickled eggs.
— Barney Panofsky’s Best Intentions (@mynamesnotgordy) April 24, 2021
Moments before the parade began, ‘George’ from St. Catharines addressed the crowd. In the above clip he proudly announces that he has not worn a mask for over a month, proclaiming “If this was masks anonymous, I deserve my chip! God as my witness, I have not worn a mask.” He warned the audience about being “dogpiled” at Canadian Tire and Costco (“And Longos!” interjects with a woman wearing a camo-patterned Trump hat), but states that he shops everywhere else mask-free.
His message took an abrupt turn, with a thinly-veiled call to violence. This is consistent with the theme of imminent warfare that is a fixture of anti-maker rallies.
If you’re not going to pick up a gun, if you’re not gonna shed blood for freedom, the least you can do– have the strength to show your face. Amen.
Food insecurity and the collapse of society are also recurring themes. What’s mind-blowing is that the audience eats it up (figuratively, as there were no pickled eggs on-site).
I’m buggin’ out up North. I’ve started canning! I’ve started making jam! I’ve started pickling eggs! A lost art– how come grandmothers don’t hand that down to their kids anymore?
My dining room table’s full of mason jars. I’m pickling eggs right now. I’m getting ready for the worst-case scenario. Please do the same… I hope I don’t need it. But if I do, whatever.
But anyway, I’m here to promote not wearing a mask, but also the lost art of water bath canning, steam canning, pickling is super easy, anyone can do it. Start preserving food, you don’t need refrigeration. Amen. Love you.
Pickled eggs are not safe for canning at home, by the way. Not under any circumstances.
This guy gonna die from botulism
— Nabeel Sheiban (@sheibanlaw) April 25, 2021
Although Ontario Premier Doug Ford has granted expanded police powers to crack down on unlawful gatherings, I did not see the issuance of a single fine or any arrests. In fact, police escorted the parade. There were bike cops, mounted police, and marked as well as unmarked cruisers. None of that runs cheap.
— Caryma Sa’d – Lawyer (@CarymaRules) April 24, 2021
I spoke to at least five officers to inquire about why they were blocking off the streets for the parade instead of dispersing the crowd. Nobody could give me a proper answer, but the gist is they were simply following orders and trying to “keep the peace.” I pointed out the police track record for harsh crowd control during the G20 summit, noting the anti-maskers were significantly fewer in number and should therefore be easier to manage. One officer gruffly dismissed the comparison, claiming the anti-maskers weren’t causing property damage. When I asked why safeguarding property would be prioritized over protecting people from potential health risks, he accused me of putting words in his mouth.
Reading between the lines, it seems police were there to prevent conflict between anti-maskers and bystanders. I only saw a handful of skirmishes, mostly verbal. From my vantage point, the approach emboldened the anti-maskers, while simultaneously disheartening the broader public.
— Stewart Bell (@StewGlobal) April 25, 2021
As always, there was a stunning collection of signs on display.
I love that sign saying “where did the flu go?” Well, Martha, with consistent mask wearing and hand washing, as well as socially distancing, the flu has not had a chance to spread. And still COVID spreads, showing you how aggressive it is & we need to do all we can to stop it.
— Silvia Stroie (@silviastroie) April 25, 2021
They are asking the right questions but can’t seem to connect the dots.
Yesterday, a 13-year-old girl died from COVID-19 in Brampton. Her dad (who didn’t show signs of sickness) may have transmitted the virus from his warehouse job. The stakes are real and extremely high. Still, I don’t have contempt for anti-maskers. They are reacting to a series of catastrophic policy decisions, compounded by the erosion of trust in media and government. It’s not crazy to be skeptical about the Canadian media conglomerate landscape, or politicians who plainly favor party and donor interests over the common good. I think the majority of anti-maskers are motivated by base instincts, primarily fear, and thus make easy targets for grifters. There are thousands of people across the country who genuinely believe they are doing the right thing by eschewing masks and other forms of collective action to stop the spread of the virus. They are racing towards the cliff like a pack of lemmings and dragging the rest of us along.
I have become known for producing editorial comics, some of which feature prominent anti-maskers like Adam Skelly, Randy Hillier, Henry Hildebrant, and Chris Saccoccia (AKA Chris Sky). Humour and sunlight are good disinfectants. But in all seriousness, I think the anti-masker movement is dangerous for many reasons. Supporters are actively encouraged to defy public health orders and common sense, often on the basis of conspiracy theories. Most disturbingly, there is overlap with fascist, fundamentalist, and white nationalist organizing. I hope to expand on this in future posts. In my estimation, there are nefarious groups and people who prey on legitimate fears, grievances, and desperation, masking themselves (pun intended) in the cloak of civil liberties. It would be unwise to ignore or trivialize this movement. We do so at our own peril.
This is by far my favourite video from yesterday.
Slight typo. This one is funny.* https://t.co/GuPS234H0W
— Mark Slapinski (@MarkSlapinski) April 25, 2021