MIDDLESEX CENTRE, ONT. -- The Town of Aylmer has declared a state of emergency ahead of a second anti-masking rally planned for Saturday.

Aylmer police said in a tweet that the declaration was a direct response to the Freedom March planned for the afternoon of Nov. 7.

“My biggest concern is the safety and well being of our whole community,” says Mayor Mary French.

Town officials have learned that the freedom rally against masks may be confronted by a large number of counter-protestors.

French says the town of 7,500 residents doesn’t have enough public safety resources to police a large confrontation.

“By declaring a state of emergency, we can reach out to the province for assistance,” explains French. “Those resources that we need, this is the key reason we have done this.”

The declaration reads that it was "...a result of the potential for civil unrest and service disruptions relating to protests and demonstrations regarding COVID-19 directions, recommendations and orders set out by the Province of Ontario and Southwestern Public Health."

“We are probably going to have to block some roads and those types of things, because what we’re learning is that the (Freedom) March is supposed to go down Highway #3,” adds French.

The rally, dubbed a 'Peaceful Family-Friendly Event' was expected to be held in the parking lot at the East Elgin Community Complex.

There were significant concerns after hundreds of people not wearing masks gathered on Oct. 24, although organizers have said it was not an ‘anti-mask rally,’ but a much broader message about COVID-19 restrictions infringing on rights.

According to the municipality, the state of emergency protects volunteers, staff and elected officials, assist with funding as a result of the emergency and conveys the seriousness of the emergency.

French worries the anti-mask rallies are creating an inaccurate public perception that Aylmer is unsafe.

“I do believe our businesses are suffering because a lot of people are nervous to shop here because they believe masking laws are not being put in place properly and that people are disregarding those laws.

To date, Aylmer is the municipality that has had the highest number of overall COVID-19 cases in Elgin and Oxford counties, accounting for 89 of the 337 cases recorded as of Monday, according to Southwestern Public Health (SWPH).

SWPH saw a spike in cases Monday and is also dealing with an outbreak at a congregate living facility in Bayham.