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Dr. Henry: Anti-mask protests 'slap in the face' to healthcare workers, but right to peaceful demonstration remains

“As long as it's outside and they are not putting others at risk, the risk of transmission of the virus is less."
An anti-mask Christmas-themed rally took place in downtown Vancouver on Dec. 5, 2020. Screenshot via Twitter

While protests over COVID-19 restrictions may be a “slap in the face” of healthcare workers, provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry says people still have the right to peaceful demonstration. 

The protests against virus restrictions have become weekly events in some communities, like Kelowna, where between 200 and 300 people meet Saturdays in Stuart Park and along Highway 97.

Dr. Henry emphasized that the protesters make up a very small proportion of the public.

“There are small numbers of people, and yes, it does increase one’s outrage factor,” Dr. Henry said. “Especially when I know there are people who are working day and night in our healthcare system caring for people with COVID, making sure people are still getting their surgeries.

“It really is in some ways, a slap in the face,” Dr. Henry continued. “But we also need to, however, as I’ve said all along, to recognize that people have a right to peaceful demonstration.”

“As long as it's outside and they are not putting others at risk, the risk of transmission of the virus is less, although, as we know it is more dangerous than it was before.” 

The comments come as some on social media have called on police to break-up protests for violating COVID restrictions that ban public gatherings.

The provincial health officer also responded to concerns that some churches in B.C., including one in Kelowna, have held in-person services in contravention of public health orders. She called the services “concerning.”

“It concerns me because it is a misunderstanding of why we are trying to put these restrictions in place,” she said, explaining indoor gatherings of people have proven to be one of the riskiest settings for virus transmission.

Dr. Henry noted that she has nothing to do with setting or enforcing financial penalties associated with health orders, a responsibility that rests with the Minister of Public Safety.

She said 2,020 new cases of the illness have been detected since Friday, with 35 more deaths, pushing the death toll to 527.

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