Toronto Police Department chats with anti-mask protesters in Toronto on Saturday, January 23, 2021. The protest traveled downtown for hours and was not stopped by the police. THE CANADIAN PRESS / Frank Gun
The beginning of 2021 was a difficult time for Canadian anti-maskers. For nearly a year, the conspiracy movement in Canada went relatively unpunished, but as the pandemic spreads and stricter lockdowns are being imposed, police are beginning to act, arresting and blaming movement leaders, and collecting anti-mask protesters.
In some large cities, the police say they are intensifying their efforts against the groups. “While we recognize the right to lawful protest, existing emergency orders prohibit large gatherings of more than five people,” Toronto police tweeted on February 6. “Because of these orders, we improve our enforcement when it comes to large gatherings.” . “
A Toronto police spokeswoman told VICE World News that police arrested 18 people during the protests – five of them this weekend – and (as of February 2) 171 provincial cards for protests, parties and large gatherings since they started in Ontario I issued a home order on January 14th.
Lamont Daigle, one of the leaders of anti-mask group The Line, was arrested and charged on January 16 in Yonge and Dundas Square in Toronto at the largest recurring anti-mask rally in Canada. Masker was arrested in a rather ugly scene at the same rally and banned from participating in the protest. Farkus shoved her luck and was arrested again later that month for violating her bail.
Chris Saccoccia, the wealthy son of a wealthy building contractor who became the anti-mask leader, was arrested on January 23 and charged with general nuisance and four cases of mischief. He was temporarily banned from Yonge and Dundas Square, according to Saccoccia tweets (he has since tweeted, the ban lifted).
The sight of the actual prosecution has drained the anti-maskers’ tentative support for the police. The leaders previously praised her for how she handled the rallies. Now videos of the arrests have gone viral within the movement as evidence of government repression. The day Farkus was arrested, a 22-year-old man was accused of assaulting a police officer.
“You will burn in hell. You are dead, ”a prominent member of the anti-mask group Hugs Over Masks yelled at the police as they broadcast Farkus’ arrest live. “You are a dead man. See!”
This danger of escalation comes after a month in which the anti-maskers saw the authorities’ strongest resistance to date. Drew, an anti-fascist researcher who is closely following the anti-masking movement, told VICE World News that the situation for anti-maskers worsened in December.
“By then, Southwest Ontario, Saskatchewan, Manitoba and some parts of BC had fined Calgary and Toronto before moving on to arrests and charges,” Drew said. “The police didn’t react until the problem got so bad it could no longer be ignored.”
If authorities hadn’t waited so long to take these various groups seriously, “a preventive approach could have been taken early on to nip this problem in the bud, and potentially less sensational and brutal arrests,” Drew said.
The crackdown and growing tensions with the police are taking place across the country. Demonstrators are arrested every week in Hamilton now, four last weekend. In Edmonton in December, police distributed tickets to anti-maskers for violating the city’s mask, despite many, including Mayor Don Iveson, criticizing the Edmonton police response. In Vancouver, a police officer’s leg was recently broken in an alleged attack by an anti-masker. In late December, Montreal police handed out $ 400,000 tickets to anti-maskers at a large rally.
God does not help the anti-maskers either. In the small town of Alymer, Ontario, a pastor continues his holy war on lockdown orders, despite routine indictments of parishioners, including his son. Police say they are watching footage of the group’s latest service and will incriminate those involved. In the town of Steinbach, Manitoba, another pastor is also raging against the barriers, ostensibly to enlarge his church. Recently, Hugs Over Masks held a rally there in mid-January that allowed 10 people to attend.
It is no wonder that the solidarity and nerves of the majority of anti-maskers seem to be frayed. A week after his arrest, Line and Daigle shared a post urging their supporters not to attend the weekly rally.
“Protesters and organizers of these protests are calling the Nazis police and shouting and threatening at some point that people have more weapons than the police and threatening violence,” the statement said. “We have to be very clear that we will not condone this type of behavior from our movement.”
Lamont Daigle, co-founder of ‘The Line Canada’, speaks to supporters at an anti-lockdown rally in Toronto as they protest against Covid restrictions on Saturday, December 19, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS / Chris Young
“I don’t swear to the police. I swear by what they represent. I swear by their masks. I swear they are against the charter, ”replied an angry anti-masker. “We swear by everything these costumed people do that is immoral and illegal. And it feels really very good to let them know. ”
Some group members called Daigle a coward or a splitter for trying to distance himself from the more aggressive parts of the movement.
Despite the crackdown, the die-hard and the leaders, many of whom are trying to make money or feed on the movement’s attention, are still kicking around. And with the elixir of life of movement, especially in large Facebook groups and other social media strongholds, online conversation is more exuberant than ever before.
Morgan Yew, a citizen journalist and filmmaker who has been watching the Yonge and Dundas protests for months, said while visitor numbers are dwindling, the die-hard are still there, testing their luck against law enforcement. This allows the group to “mutate and learn what they can and can’t do,” he said.
“Yes, the numbers are falling. Yes, people are discouraged. But I think it’s all temporary, ”Yew told VICE World News. “It has an emotional component because people have been doing this since June. What I would call the true believers, like the core members of these groups, the followers, they are very invested and they are not going away. “
Follow Mack Lamoureux on Twitter.