The message that small businesses can operate safely during the COVID-19 pandemic conflicted with the crowded scene at a rally to end government restrictions Saturday on Ouellette Avenue.
Many in a crowd of more than 100 were not wearing masks as they stood shoulder to shoulder with one another — on the one-year anniversary of the first confirmed COVID-19 case in Windsor-Essex.
They waved signs of protest at the traffic that passed by the closed Windsor-Essex County Health Unit.
Music blared from two large speakers set up on the lawn of Windsor Regional Hospital. Kids raced around chasing each other while adults exchanged hugs and handshakes.
A man introduced only as Pastor Thomas gave a fire-and-brimstone sermon about government oppression and encouraged those in attendance to “join God’s army, join the fight for truth. Rise up Canada, rise up Windsor.”
Fitting for a rally staged in the shadow of a hospital, one maskless protester wore a lab coat and a stethoscope as he passed out a newspaper and later displayed a sign where the “C” in Canada was depicted much like a Russian hammer and sickle emblem.
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Currie Soulliere, the leader of a group known as Questioning Covid Windsor-Essex, was also there with a sign reading “Workers and customers have a right to decline testing, masking, injecting.”
Kim Spirou, the owner of a hair salon on Ottawa Street, was one of the organizers of Saturday’s rally as part of a collection of small business owners known as Open Ontario.
Spirou acknowledged the mingling of Soulliere and her group was not a good look.
“We’re not anti maskers,” Spirou said. “We’re all about businesses, we don’t want to be mixed up with that. We don’t believe in what they espouse. We will continue to take every precaution possible to keep our customers safe.”
Spirou said Soulliere reached out to her prior to the rally and Spirou asked her and her followers not to attend.
Spirou said government health data does not support the capacity limits placed on businesses like hers as well as gyms and restaurants.
She said not one case of COVID locally has been traced back to a hair salon. She said bars and restaurants account for less than 1.8 per cent of cases while gyms and fitness facilities account for 0.04 per cent of cases.
“We want to call attention to the fact that the restrictions aren’t evidence based,” she said. “They tell us to trust the science, trust the data. Well, why aren’t they trusting it for our small businesses? We can open fully and safely.”
Mezzo Ristorante owner Filip Rocca also took the microphone Saturday.
“This is about our freedoms,” he said. “Lift the restrictions on small business so we can operate safely.”
Spirou, who once worked in hospital administration, told the crowd “our hospitals are not overwhelmed. They have 85 ICU beds and there are four people in them with COVID. We are OK. We are ready to move on.”
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