WOODSTOCK, ONT. -- The MPP for Oxford County is asking his constituents not to attend a protest in Woodstock this weekend against COVID-19 safety protocols.

The so-called Freedom Rally, scheduled for Sunday afternoon, follows rallies in St. Thomas and Sarnia planned for Saturday, and a massive rally in Aylmer, Ont. last weekend.

Ernie Hardeman worries that a similar type of event in Woodstock could risk a COVID-19 outbreak in the community.

“I hope no one in the community goes out to the rally. There’s a reason why we have restrictions on gatherings. It’s to protect our whole society. Having said that, we can’t stop people from gathering and doing what it is they want to do as long as we follow the protocols.”

The Sunday rally condemns what it calls “totalitarian restrictions.” Among the scheduled speakers is the controversial pastor, Henry Hildebrandt, of the Church of God in Aylmer.

Unlike the much smaller community of Aylmer with its limited resources, Woodstock has not gone so far as to declare a state of emergency.

However, both the mayor and the chief of police have come out with strong statements about the rally.

Mayor Trevor Birtch took to social media, saying, “any activity that unnecessarily increases the risk of exposure is unacceptable.” He told CTV News that he also respects the right to assembly.

“So, some of the dialogue that has become quite negative, that never accomplishes anything. So remain positive. Remain open-minded, and continue to think of the needs of others.”

Police Chief Daryl Longworth said the service has been fielding calls from concerned citizens.

“People were anxious and worried and fearful in some regards because of what they saw in Aylmer. And I just wanted to reassure the community that they will be kept safe and that the police service will be stepping up, and we’ll be deploying officers to make sure they stay safe.”

Longworth said police will work to make sure traffic flow is not disrupted, and there’s minimal impact to local businesses.

Meantime, Hardeman stresses that the safest action anyone can take is to just steer clear of the rally.

“I think the message they’re sending is totally wrong. But at the same time, the only way we can protect ourselves from it is not be there.”