Anti-mask group planning car rally in Steinbach, Top doctor warns against breaking the rules

WINNIPEG — A group of Manitobans has planned an anti-mask rally this weekend protesting COVID-19 restrictions across the province, though Manitoba’s top doctor says anyone caught breaking the orders should be ticketed.

A group called ‘Hugs Over Masks Nation’ is planning a car rally in Steinbach, Man., on Saturday afternoon with speakers including a retired chiropractor, a pastor, and a minister.

When asked about the rally on Thursday, Dr. Brent Roussin, the chief provincial public health officer, said anyone violating public health orders should face enforcement.

“We don’t have time to educate anymore,” he said. “We’re at a critical stage right now.”

Steinbach currently has the highest level of active cases in the Southern Health Region, with 246 active cases and 11 total COVID-19 deaths reported as of Thursday.

The region, along with the rest of the province, has been placed under the red or critical level on the pandemic response system which brings with it a slew of restrictions to curb the surging COVID-19 cases.

“We’re being forced with all kinds of closures, business closures, which is very unfair,” said Lewis Weiss, the Reeve for the RM of La Broquerie and a speaker at the rally on Saturday. “Wearing masks, all kinds of rules are being implemented on people basically for no cause.”

Weiss said he has been assured the rally on Saturday will be ‘friendly’ and all those in attendance will be following current health orders.

Weiss said he has been outspoken against the province’s restrictions, specifically around masks.

Current health orders mandate Manitobans must wear a mask in all indoor public places in a manner that covers their mouth, nose, and chin without gapping.

“If you don’t feel safe around somebody, move or distance yourself from them – I don’t wear a mask, I never have,” he said. “I don’t go out of my way to make trouble.”

While Weiss said he does believe the COVID-19 pandemic is ‘likely’ real, he said he thinks the cases are over-reported by the province, though he would not say why he thinks this.

When asked about nine COVID-19-related deaths that were reported on Thursday, one of which was to an outbreak at the Bethesda Regional Health Centre in Steinbach, he questioned the accuracy of reported numbers.

“I would like things turned back to the way they were, where businesses can flourish,” he said. “We’re living in growing communities and you can’t just send people home from their jobs.”

Weiss did have a message for people planning to attend the rally.

“People be friendly to one another, be kind. If you have different opinions about things, we’re allowed to have different opinions. It doesn’t mean one person is right over the next,” he said. “People get angry about things, it’s not worth it. Life is short, we get 100 years here, so lets be kind to one another.”

Under current orders, Manitobans caught violating health orders can be fined $1,296. Businesses caught breaking the orders will face a $5,000 fine.

The province said Manitobans should report ‘compliance and enforcement’ issues.

CTV News has reached out to the organizers of the rally for comment.

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