'It’s not right'; local Legion not happy with anti-restriction rally held at cenotaph in St. Thomas
LONDON, ONT. -- With a full complement of St. Thomas police officers looking on, a small 'Freedom Rally' of about 250 anti-restriction protestors took place Saturday.
A week after a massive gathering of nearly 2000 protesters took over downtown Aylmer, Ont. last week, this event was much more subdued.
"Our mandate is to keep the peace and to keep everyone safe," says Tanya Calvert of the St. Thomas Police Service who even deployed the body cams from their pilot project in case they were necessary.
Speakers took to the back of a pickup truck in the Memorial Arena parking lot, with just a handful of counter-protesters in attendance.
After the speeches, a march up the Whistestop Trail began.
That's where protesters were greeted by a few messages in chalk which were left by St. Thomas residents. Some included dead body outlines, with pro-mask messaging.
Chalk messages left for protesters on Whistestop Trail in St. Thomas (Brent Lale / CTV News)
The march then went to the monument at Veterans Memorial Garden where the protesters held a remembrance ceremony. That didn't sit well with the local legion.
"When anyone wants to pay remembrance tribute to our veterans we love that, but you can't combine that with an anti-mask or freedom rally, it's not right," says Tony Bendel, public relations officer for Royal Canadian Legion Branch 41.
"I believe by doing this you are endangering our veterans, our seniors and keeping them in lockdown."
The rally did not make it's to Talbot Street, but that didn't stop many businesses from closing their doors Saturday. They were unsure what was going to happen, and many also are unsure of the fallout from the protest.
"I've heard from a few businesses in Aylmer, and they've struggled since the rally," says Marty Hancox, owner of Fan of the Sport on Talbot Street.
"Saturday is everybody's most profitable day, and because of COVID we can't handle any more setbacks."
After the gathering at the cenotaph, the protesters made their way back to their vehicles at the arena.
Anti-restriction protesters gather at Veterans Memorial Garden in St. Thomas (Brent Lale / CTV News)
"The investigation doesn't end when the rally ends," says Calvert.
"We are collecting evidence today and in consultation with Crown Attorney's office we will review evidence that we have for prosecution and see if we move forward."