Anti-mask protest or freedom conspiracy rally?

They’re protesting their displeasure about COVID-19, but it seems like there’s more than meets the eye.

Thousands of people gathered on Sept. 12 in downtown Montreal to share their displeasure with the Quebec government’s handling of the COVID-19 virus.

One of the largest anti-COVID-19 restrictions protests in Montreal to date started outside Premier François Legault’s office. At its peak, the estimated 8000 person crowd spanned through more than five blocks of downtown Montreal.

Protesters young and old not only attempted to share their displeasures with how the province has responded to the COVID-19 pandemic, but also other issues that aren’t usually highlighted in the public spotlight.

From 5G deniers to Trump supporters to anti-vaxxers, the message was clear: in their eyes, their freedoms have been violated, and patience is wearing thin.

“Listen, it’s about free choice, I’m not against the mask, I just want us to have the right to choose whether or not we can wear it,” said Daniel Klein, one of the protestors.

“If you’re at risk or scared, put a mask on. But for kids, where we have seen no deaths in that age group in Quebec, there shouldn’t be a reason for them to be wearing a mask,” said Klein.

Few people were willing to be interviewed on the record, as the majority did not want to be questioned, especially from journalists.

With every thud of the drums and tap of the tambourines, the crowd loudly chanted “Liberté,” which echoed throughout the dense crowd of protesters. While the protesters marched down Sherbrooke Street, a countless amount of Trump and Patriotes flags waved in the wind behind them. With no masks in sight, attendees were clearly not worried about contracting or spreading the COVID-19 virus.

“When the vaccine comes out, I will not be taking it and no one can force me to take it either, I’m a free person,” said Steve, who preferred not to disclose his last name. “When it comes to the government threatening people in their own homes with these new laws, it’s unethical. It’s a small percentage! Is there a virus? Yes, there is, but there are viruses everywhere around the world that kill people that are even worse than COVID-19,” said Steve.

Many protesters were seen Saturday with QAnon signs and flags. Often distinguished by the capital letter ”Q,” QAnon is an American alt-right website promoting theoretical, non-factual and sensationalized stories. With a tacit endorsement from President Trump, the website is known to share unverified information to an absurdly wide audience. Before their admin was revealed and the website was ultimately shut down, they amassed over 10 million visitors in the month of July alone.

The march ended in front of the Radio Canada building. Speakers accused the government of exaggerating the dangers of the disease to spread fear amongst the public, as well as blowing the virus out of proportion altogether.

The most recognizable amongst the speakers was actress Lucie Laurier, known for her brief role in Bon Cop Bad Cop; she is one of the major front runners for the anti-mask movement in Montreal.

“Yes, there are people who won’t like us, and our words will bother some,” said Laurier. “We’re causing a stir because we’re telling the truth!”

On the day of the protest, Quebec public health recorded 244 new COVID-19 cases in Montreal, the highest number of new active cases in the city since June 4.


Feature photo by Gabriel Guindi.

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