Charges have been withdrawn against a group of area residents who protested the province’s COVID-19 regulations this spring.
And at least one of the 'Freedom Rally' participants isn’t happy charges for violating the Reopening Ontario Act were laid in the first place.
“You have the right to express yourself in this country,” said Port McNicoll resident John Cipolla, who moved to Canada from the United States in 2009.
“In this country, you have the right to life, liberty, security of person, use and enjoyment of property, due process, equal protection before the law and equality before the law. And those rights cannot be infringed upon.”
Cipolla said the move to lay charges wasted taxpayer money since he and others charged had to attend court four times and prosecutors had to prepare cases against them.
“They (the prosecution) wasted all that time with disclosure,” he said, noting the province’s courts are already backed up.
“This was such a gross waste of resources when this country has homeless people, people that aren't eating. We really have our priorities screwed up in this country.”
At one ‘freedom rally' in April, close to 10 area residents gathered at the Midland town dock to voice their concerns during an anti-mask/lockdown demonstration, which resulted in police charging seven people.
Carrying signs with sayings such as “End the lockdown; People are suffering” and “What would love do,” the small group also wore shirts emblazoned with the aforementioned slogans with one demonstrator also carrying a megaphone.
Cipolla said those attending were “fathers, mothers and grandmothers” speaking out against threats to their life and liberty without interference from the government.
“They’re just men and women trying to live their lives lawfully,” he said.
When asked whether these kinds of protests hurt society as a whole since the majority are following public health and provincially set regulations, Cipolla said most Canadians aren’t aware of what they can legally do.
“Those are people that need to be educated on what their rights are and how to exercise those rights,” he said. “Their rights trump unlawful mandates from the government, unlawful COVID measures from the government.”
When asked whether the rallies went against the country’s moral or ethical fabric by not adhering not to public health and government pandemic protocols, Cipolla said they did not.
“You can’t impose unlawful measures without any scientific, medical or legal proof of any kind," he said. "You can’t do it. Yes, so morally, ethically, legally, medically, ethically, it cannot be done.”
At the time, participants approached by a journalist refused to speak with MidlandToday about why they were protesting or what they hoped to achieve by demonstrating.
One woman stated she “disagrees” with the discourse of mainstream media with others noting that they do not want to speak to journalists who “represent the entity.”
They then proceeded to yell at a reporter taking pictures and asking questions about their motivations for the rally. They continued shouting until the journalist had left.
But Cipolla has a different recollection of the event and suggested it might have been a “provocateur,” who showed up and had no connection to the group.
“I don’t remember anybody being treated badly,” he said. “In fact, it was a very inclusive welcoming group that anybody could be a part of and that’s what it was about.
“There’s been a lot of provocateurs attending these things. Maybe it was some sort of provocateur trying to make them (the reporter) believe they were part of our group when in fact they weren’t.”
As well, Cipolla said Southern Georgian Bay OPP Insp. Joseph Evans erred in having the tickets issued in the first place.
“I told him there’s nobody here breaking any laws,” Cipolla said, noting police didn’t even lay charges at the event, but rather waited until the following Thursday at 9:30 p.m. and showed up at participants’ homes to issue a summons.
“(They’re) totally trying to harass and annoy the people of this town.”When asked for a response to Cipolla’s assertions, Southern Georgian Bay OPP Const. Aaron Coulter said: “Apologies but I think I am safe in saying that we won't respond to decisions made by the courts.”