Health officials call Aylmer freedom march ‘dangerous’

Participants at a 'freedom march' in Aylmer, October 24, 2020. Photo from Kimberly Neudorf on Facebook.

The medical officer of health for Oxford and Elgin counties is voicing concerns over a so-called “freedom march” held in Aylmer over the weekend.

Roughly 200 people, who were not wearing face coverings or standing two metres apart, marched through the town on Saturday. The event was in protest of public health restrictions put in place to help stop the spread of COVID-19.

“Participating in a large group activity, unmasked, as cases are rising everywhere, is dangerous,” Dr. Joyce Lock, medical officer of health at Southwestern Public Health, said in a statement. “A single event such as the one held on Saturday has the potential to upend everything this region has worked toward and threatens the health and well-being of hundreds of residents.”

The crowd of adults and children marched through the downtown carrying signs reading “don’t be sheep,” “freedom is risky have some courage,” and “socialism distancing.” They then gathered at the bandshell, standing shoulder-to-shoulder as speeches were delivered.

Aylmer police were on site monitoring the gathering. While it did violate current restrictions on the size of outdoor gatherings, no fines were issued against those in attendance. Under current provincial guidelines, outdoor gatherings are capped at 25 people.

According to organizers of the march, the government is acting “illegally and unconstitutionally” by issuing public health measures that mandate face masks and restrict activity.

“Our rights are not up for debate… it is of utmost importance we keep our God-given freedoms and that is why we are here,” march organizer Kimberly Neudorf  said to the crowd on Saturday. “Businesses know how to take responsibility and serve their customers to meet their needs. It shows government is completely unnecessary to save us. Because they restrict the free market and our individual freedoms we have only become poorer, more alienated and unable to help one another. We have had enough.”

Lock acknowledged that civic action is an important part of political discourse, but is urging everyone in Elgin and Oxford counties to “choose to protect the community.”

“We understand that communities and individuals are tired, and they are stressed. For seven months, your lives have been turned upside down by the measures designed to stop the spread of COVID-19,” said Lock. “The good news is that individual action is working, and our case count has remained manageable. We are limiting illness, disability, and death.”

Since the start of the pandemic, Southwestern Public Health has reported 309 positive COVID-19 cases – 88 of which were in Aylmer – and five deaths linked to the virus.