State of emergency declared in Aylmer

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

A planned march this weekend by “anti-maskers” has caused officials in Aylmer to take preemptive action.

The town has declared a state of emergency in response to a second “freedom march” that is scheduled to take place on Saturday. According to a tweet by Aylmer police, the declaration is meant to ward off any potential trouble.

“The potential for civil unrest and service disruptions has prompted this response,” read the tweet, which included a copy of the order that was signed by Aylmer Mayor Mary French.

The state of emergency was dated at 3 p.m. Monday.

The order is issued on the same day that the health unit announced it was investigating an outbreak of 31 COVID-19 cases in a congregate living setting in Bayham.

As of Monday evening, Southwestern Public Health recorded a total of 337 COVID-19 cases covering Elgin and Oxford Counties. Aylmer led all communities with 89 cases.

Medical Officer of Health Dr. Joyce Lock had expressed concern over the first event, held October 24, stating that the idea of a large crowd gathering close together without any form of protection was unwise.

“Participating in a large group activity, unmasked, as cases are rising everywhere, is dangerous,” said Lock in a statement.

At the first “freedom march”, about 200 people, none of whom were social distancing or wearing masks, marched through town in protest of public health guidelines implemented by Southwestern Public Health and the Ontario Ministry of Health. Participants carried signs that read, among other things, “Don’t be sheep” and “Socialism distancing”.

The crowd then stood close together at a rally held at the town’s bandshell. Police monitored the crowd but there was no trouble. Despite provincial orders against more than 25 people standing together outdoors at one time, no fines were issued.

—with files from Miranda Chant