Hundreds of anti-lockdown, anti-mask protesters take to the streets again in downtown Barrie

By: Cheryl Browne, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Barrie Advance
Calls for ‘Freedom’ rang through the downtown core of Barrie  as Freedom Rally marchers walked peacefully from the newly fenced in  Meridian Place to Centennial Park on Saturday, May 1.
More than 200 un-masked walkers enjoyed the sunshine as they pushed  children in strollers and carried signs as they left their former  rallying stage during the morning. Mayor Jeff Lehman had called for an  emergency order April 29 to close the centre to unlawful public  gatherings during the COVID-19 pandemic lockdown.
“I’m here to express my opinion to make a statement for  anti-lockdown,” said Scott Hughes in the crowd as they arrived at  Centennial Park. “I’m not concerned about COVID-19 because it’s all  fake.”
While most Ontarians are hunkering down to protect themselves and  their families by social distancing and wearing face masks, the freedom  protestors eschew face coverings,   even though it’s been scientifically proven that masks play a critical role in preventing someone from catching and spreading the potentially deadly virus.
“I’m pissed off with our government shattering our constitutional  rights and don’t believe (Premier) Doug Ford and (Prime Minister) Justin  Trudeau are upholding our laws and the constitution,” Larry Kraemer  said of the lockdown and his need to protest.
For the most part, rally attendees listened politely to event  organizer Tyler Nicholson pump up the crowd through his megaphone on the  stage in the cement pavilion.
Singer Crysta Perpeto led the assembled in singing the national  anthem, including a man who wore only a speedo with the Canadian flag  affixed to the front, and sneakers.
One man was arrested as he name-called the protestors and yelled  angrily they should return to Meridian Place and tear down the fences.
Barrie Police Service officers who had followed the march and were  standing on the periphery arrested the large man after an initial  struggle.
Police would rather there was no gathering at all said Barrie Sgt. Toni Talarico.
“We urge people to stay at home, follow the regulations, and to not  gather unlawfully to help stop the spread of COVID-19,” Talarico said.
Former Simcoe County school board trustee Bud Watson sat on a bench  near the beach wearing a mask. He shook his head when queried about his  participation at the event.
“No, I’m not with them and no, they shouldn’t be gathering,” Watson  said. “It’s a big concern – not wearing masks – someone’s going to catch  COVID-19 and pass it on.”
Multiple rallies have been held at the site since March, even though  they are in defiance of Ontario government’s stay-at-home and emergency  orders, city rules and Simcoe Muskoka District Health Unit COVID-19  safety guidelines. has reached out to Barrie Police and city officials for an update on how they responded to the rally.
About 300 people gathered at the downtown square April 24. Barrie  police said officers charged between 10 and 15 individuals under the  Reopening Ontario Act. One woman at the gathering was also arrested and  charged with obstructing officers after she refused to provide her name.
OPP charged seven people involved in the anti-lockdown demonstration held at the Midland waterfront on April 24.
Fines are $750 for anyone failing to comply with an order and $1,000  for preventing others from following an order. Maximum fines are  $100,000 for individuals and $10 million for a corporation.