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COVID-19 restrictions protest organizer plans to expand her efforts

Barrhead's mayor says people have the right to protest peacefully, but should do so with in the law

BARRHEAD - Benita Pedersen will be expanding her campaign against the provincial government's COVID-19 public health restrictions to include a province-wide door-to-door information campaign.

 That is what Pedersen told a crowd of about 100 people during a Feb. 27, Enough is Enough protest rally in the Barrhead Agrena parking lot.

 "We are going to need hundreds, if not thousands of volunteers to start it off," she said. "And it is going to start right here in Barrhead." 

It was the fifth rally Petersen, a Westlock-area DJ, has organized and the third in as many days. The other rallies have been in Westlock and Athabasca. It was the second rally Pedersen organized in Barrhead, the first being on Feb. 18. She has other protests planned this week for Whitecourt, Bonnyville, Slave Lake and Fort McMurray.

Pedersen organized the protests to get the provincial and federal governments to lift public health restrictions imposed due to COVID-19. She states that the response to the pandemic and the various restrictions imposed on people and businesses were unjustified and have done more harm than good.

After announcing the door-knocking campaign, Pederson urged the crowd to get involved in pressuring both the federal and provincial governments to end COVID-19 restrictions through various means, including by organizing their own rallies.

 "You are a taxpayer and citizen of Canada, you are entitled to have a rally on any publically-owned land in Alberta, be it municipal, province or by the federal government," she said. "For private property, you need to jump through some hoops and get written permission first." 

She also encouraged people to defy the restrictions in a show of civil disobedience, adding that civil disobedience can take many forms.

 "It can mean that if you have a business that you are not supposed to open, you open it. It can mean, that although the government hasn't approved getting together with your family and friends, you do it anyway. I encourage you to do it. Don't be afraid of this virus, keep talking to people and keep interacting," Pederson said but reiterated the need to be civil. "You have to respect and love them. It's OK to disagree, we don't have to be the ones that get nasty."

As part of her civil disobedience Pedersen she would be hosting a karaoke party in Mirror.

Town of Barrhead mayor reaction to protests

Town of Barrhead mayor Dave McKenzie understands why people are frustrated about the province's COVID-19 public health restrictions and respects people's right to protest peacefully. 

However, he said they have to do it peacefully and safely and follow public health guidelines.

 "That is the beauty of living in our country ... we have freedom of speech," McKenzie said. "But in the process of hosting a rally or a protest, they decide to engage in civil disobedience — in this case by advocating not wearing a mask or social distancing — there are legal remedies and I understand that occurred."

The Leader talked to McKenzie in advance of the second Enough is Enough rally in Barrhead.

McKenzie noted that the rallies highlighted a deficiency in the municipality's policies. Currently, the municipality does not have a policy if a group or organization wants to use one of its public spaces, such as the Agrena parking lot for an event.

"One is being drafted as we speak," he said. 

McKenzie added the purpose of having a policy is not to curtail free speech but to minimize the impact an event might have on nearby businesses and residents or other events that might be using the public spaces at the same time.

He noted that Pedersen did inform the municipality of her intentions to use the Agrena parking lot before the rallies.

McKenzie did not comment further about the rallies specifically but said council understands the impact that the virus and the public health restrictions are having on residents and small business.

He said that is council at their Feb. 9 meeting voted unanimously to step up their advocacy efforts on behalf of local businesses struggling to stay afloat due to the provincial and federal governments through their local representatives.

When asked if he was concerned about whether the rallies could act as potential "super spreader events" and increase the number of active cases in the area, McKenzie said that is always a concern.

"The community and its residents have been really good and have done what they need to do to keep case counts low," he said, adding as a consequence, people from areas where COVID-19 was more of an issue were coming into the community to shop. "But because of the efforts of our business community and the province-wide requirement for masking and social distancing, we have been able to keep our numbers low."

Barry Kerton,