Missing masks cause dissension in the Valley

Madawaska Valley residents have faced several recent examples of individuals, groups, and institutions who are either openly flouting mandatory mask directives, or finding loopholes within the guidelines so they are exempt from wearing masks publicly. Above: face mask poster issued by Renfrew County & District Health Unit. Image rcdhu

One such example is Our Lady Seat of Wisdom College (SWC) which is being criticized as some of its students are perceived to be consistently flouting mandatory mask requirements while in public spaces.

Students at SWC are often seen inside shops, restaurants and grocery stores not wearing masks, and are reportedly citing “medical issues” for the lack of protection. This reporter questioned one student while shopping at the local Metro who said he was not obliged to say what kind of medical issue he had. He then laughed and walked away with another student.

Much of the criticism of SWC has been made on social media by citizens who believe the college is putting the vulnerable at risk. The Madawaska Valley boasts one of the highest percentages of seniors in the province at 36.6 percent, according to the last federal census. COVID-19, while able to infect virtually anyone, has a body count that includes mostly senior citizens.

Acting SWC President Christine Schintgen sent the following when asked by The Current about why students seem so lax about wearing masks as a way of helping to stave off the COVID-19 pandemic.

“At the college we have people all over the spectrum on this. We’ve agreed on the position of upholding all government directives but we’re not bullies about it. The regulations themselves (from RCDHU) allow for exceptions, and we’re not supposed to interrogate people about them. Still, we’re really putting pressure on our students to stay out of local businesses if they cant wear a mask so as to respect local feeling about the issue.”

She added, “We don’t want to give the message that we don’t care about people, especially the vulnerable in our community.”

The SWC website says the college is “working with the Government of Canada, the Province of Ontario, and the Renfrew County and District Health Unit to make certain that all regional, provincial and federal directives are followed in the classroom and across the campus.” The post goes on to say that masks are “being worn indoors when social distancing is not possible.”

Support for the policy of following governmental directives is, however, contradicted by current Assistant Professor of Theology and Natural Science (and a founder of SWC), John Paul Meenan, who is also the Editor at Catholic Insight, where several articles have been published under his watch claiming masks are ineffective and even unhealthy for people to wear.

The Current contacted Meenan for comment. He has sent two letters explaining his position but refused to go on the record. This prompted a further response from Schintgen, as follows: “Our professors are free to express their opinions in the public sphere as long as they don’t claim to represent the college in doing so. Professor Meenan fully understands and respects this, and he supports the policy of the college on COVID-19.”

Neil O’Reilly, one of the owners of Metro, said he spoke with two people from SWC, including two calls with Schingten, but the details of these calls were unclear. O’Reilly suggested to this reporter that the grocer would work with the college to make sure they and the rest of the community felt respected while shopping.

The controversy surrounding mask-wearing was compounded by a recent gathering organized by The Polish Heritage Institute Kaszuby-Canada and held at the Chapel in the Woods, Kaszuby, Madawaska Valley where 400-500 attendees were reported to have gathered for the 100th anniversary of The Battle of Warsaw. Photos and video of the gathering show most attendees were not wearing masks.

Mayor Kim Love referenced large gatherings in her opening address at Tuesday’s Madawaska Valley Council meeting. While she seemed to be referring to The Battle of Warsaw gathering, she did not mention it by name. The Current is unaware of any other gatherings that violated provincial and federal directives.

“Very recently some groups and organizations in our community have not been following the provincial maximum of 100 people at outdoor events. This unfortunate action by a few increases the risk for us all. This is NOT the time to gather in very large groups, ignore physical distancing, or stop wearing a mask. If you are not concerned for yourself, then please consider the well-being of your family, friends, neighbours, vulnerable seniors, and those with compromised immune systems.”

The Current also spoke with Valley Gazette editor Michel Lavigne who told us his reporter had estimated 400-500 people in attendance, but that the figure was disputed by someone who was present at the gathering. That person told Lavigne that the number was closer to 350. This reporter also asked Lavigne why he did not write about the violation of provincial directives pertaining to crowd sizes at gatherings and lack of mask-wearing. He responded by saying, “I did not want to piss off the Polish people.”


  1. Pingback: Porch Views: The Madawaska Valley - Hub of the Universe? | Madawaska Valley Current

  2. Elias Galy

    John Paul Meenan simply wanted to promote candid discussion around the masking and hint that some deeper thought is needed. He succeeded so far in getting people to join in but I think there is still a need for wider critical approaches to the mask. COVID-19 uses the body’s mechanisms to replicate itself and even mutate, from within the nose and lungs. When it reaches enough of a concentration it can explode into serious sickness by exploiting some weakness that becomes present in the system or that was already there; alternatively, a person can have a major allergic-type reaction to COVID-19 itself and the virus then further exploits the same reactive process to invoke its other degenerative effects. Exhaling is a natural way to expel what is in the lungs and minimize over time the concentrations in there if not progressively reduce them: the lungs can’t saturate. So wearing the mask “too much” means that you run the risk of feeding back quantities of the virus to the lungs. It’s not a catch-22; it means that you have to breathe openly, more than not; and the people otherwise at risk have to take some measured precautions and understand that -and how- they themselves are at risk. I suspect that for most healthy people COVID-19 will be a mild allergic reaction like hay-fever, if it affects them at all; and common medicines will manage it. That explains why they keep referring to “flu-like symptoms”. This information is indicating there is a usefulness to gargling daily and rinsing out the nostrils with a bit of water using your fingers. Meenan’s reference to Ockham’s Razor is saying, there are contradictions and “over-layings” and “spawnings” in what is being imposed and asserted via “pandemic” and “mask” etc.; and you have to get at the substance intelligently. And since they are persistent you have to keep at it!

  3. Glenn Allen

    I can appreciate that Mr. Lavigne of the Valley Gazette would be reluctant to “piss off the Polish people”, but when 300? 400? 500? feckless bozos congregate willingly in a field in contravention of government guidelines and blunt common sense, well surely that constitutes a news story.

  4. Diana Shulist

    I only have a few words about this. OLSWC promotes the right to life. They march and organize and protest to try to protect the unborn. Their lax Covid-19 “philosophy” , however, just reinforces their obvious stance that once you’re born they don’t care what happens to you. I am truly ashamed to be a Catholic these days.

  5. In reply to John Paul Meenan

    Hi Mr. Meenan,

    If you are disappointed it is regrettable, but the “nuanced opinion” you shared with me was off the record, at your insistence. Therefore, I could only report what was in the public domain. I thought your nuanced opinion was thoughtful and interesting, and it would have served your position well to have been on the record, despite your unwarranted fears that your comments would be truncated.

    If there is anything in the piece you feel is inaccurate I would certainly be willing to hear you out.

    Thanks for reading.

    James Di Fiore

  6. Linda Neuman

    This has been such a difficult time for everyone, I agree, but we need to be considerate of others. If you have such a severe health issue that prevents you from wearing a mask, then you should have someone do your shopping for you because you are at a very high risk of getting the virus. Common sense tells us that. I heard, through the grape vine…gossip, you could call it…that the religious reason for not wearing a mask was that Jesus didn’t wear a mask. Being raised as a Catholic, I was taught that Jesus sacrificed his life for us so we could live our lives as Christians. I wonder why making a small sacrifice of wearing a mask for twenty minutes or so in a store, to protect the life of a vulnerable person, is so difficult for a person attending a Catholic College??? Jesus taught to “love thy neighbour as thyself”. No one would purposely go out and hurt themselves so why would one anyone want to hurt someone else or worse still, be the cause of a loved one dying because they didn’t want to wear a mask? We need to be compassionate, considerate and caring, not selfish, inconsiderate and reckless when it comes to saving a life. It is so sad to see what our world is becoming.

  7. John Paul Meenan

    To all readers of the Madawaska Current,

    I must confess that I am rather disappointed with this article, after my correspondence with Mr. di Fiore, taking the time to explain my own nuanced position on masks, which has here been framed in rather blunt terms. I feared if I made my letters to him ‘on the record’, they may well be reported in a truncated manner, distorting the complexity of this question, and a number of others connected with Covid protocols.

    I will post my letters to Mr. di Fiore on Catholic Insight, and readers are free to read my own position in full. Further, the articles by others that appear on the magazine do not necessarily reflect my own opinion. After all, free expression and open dialogue are a right and even a duty of responsible citizens, all in the common pursuit of truth.

    I should also make clear that, whatever my own opinion – which is based on evidence, and subject to modification as more evidence and truth come to light – I still support the protocols the College and the County have put in place, as necessary to fulfill our primary mission of teaching. After all, there are any number of laws and guidelines with which we may disagree to some extent, but we still in the main follow.

    The same holds for the students at Seat of Wisdom, and we should not take one or even a few unfortunate incidents to represent them all.

    I hope this helps to clarify my own position, and please do feel free to contact the College for any information and details on the protocols that have been put in place therein.

    In caritate et veritate,

    John Paul (Meenan)

  8. Kenton E. Biffert

    We all know that the medical profession does not agree on the efficacy of wearing masks. This division is reflected in the present division in our province and across Canada. Our own public health officials have told us that the wearing of masks is not effective. The messages are constantly changing and are mixed. At a local level the key is to respect each other. If a citizen makes the decision to not wear a mask due to a health reason, religious reason or otherwise, that is their choice. We have been directed NOT to question this. Our Health District has made this clear that this directive is not being enforced on the individual level. It is the job of the store owners and the college to promulgate the directive they are told to promulgate, respect the decisions of individuals to wear or not wear a mask and to use prudence. What has become even more apparent is the disrespect that those who choose to wear masks have to those that don’t. I’ve been yelled at from across a local store to step away from worker I was getting information from. This type of behaviour is absolutely unacceptable. I would suggest that everyone go back to the Health District website and reread the directives. We are not required to wear masks outside. People are allowed to be with their social groupings not social distancing and not wearing masks. You the reader or commenter do not define what other people’s social grouping is. Be respectful and get informed.

  9. Joanne Olsen, Physiotherapist

    We hang banners and post signs thanking and supporting our front line workers for their role in keeping our community safe during this very real pandemic. The majority of our residents do the responsible thing and wear a mask and/or socially distance. What a disappointing slap in the face to those same essential workers when a small minority refuse to put on a mask to protect a neighbour!!

  10. Mary ann Etmanskie

    These masks are bs. I’m a one person that will not go to that store or shop where I need to have a mask. If someone will let me shop with out a mask I am willing to shop there local or other wise . I will leave and not shop. I probably don’t need the item that bad.
    I so love the pizza at pizza pizza but we will do with our.

  11. Kristin Marchand

    I emailed the OLSWC on two separate occasions and was assured by Christine Schingten that students claiming to be medically exempt would be having their shopping done by students who were agreeing to wear masks. (email reply received on September 12, 2010).Since Ontario does not require a 14 day self isolation for people who are from Canada, students from outside the province were not obliged to self isolate.Those students from another country, including the United States, were obliged to self isolate. (email reply received on September 14, 2020) I would be interested in knowing if the students wearing masks are, in fact, shopping for others.

  12. Margy Krafchik

    I have so many comments on this article I don’t even know where to start!
    First off everyone in our community has worked so hard to keep everyone safe I would hate to see an outbreak occur due to some kids, or others who think they know better than medical officials.
    I was at the Legion supporting the Canada Day bbq on Labour Day weekend and there were several students from SWC in front of us in line not wearing masks. Everyone else in line had masks on, even my two and four year old great nieces asked “why are they not wearing their mask”!
    Does Metro now have to close off time for people not wearing masks to shop, because I certainly am not comfortable when I see someone in the store without a mask!
    I have several friends who have medical conditions and have no problem wearing a mask while they go into a store for 15 minutes!
    Where are our elected officials or are they afraid to “piss off the Polish people” too! You need to be out there, visible – put up a billboard or something! We have signs for a fire ban – put up signs for WEAR YOUR DAMN MASK!

      • Pat Scott

        With all due respect for the writer of the article and those that have commented.
        There was mention that individuals could be exemped for health and religious reasons in Mr Biffert’s comment. I believe Mr Biffert is a staff member st the Academy so will assume that his comments are exactly as bring presented to students. I could find no where that there is a religious exemption in any health guidelines locally, provincially or federally. I think that by way of making that comment it supports the argument that the Academy writes one policy but the opposite is being told to the students.
        Of course everyone should be respecting one another but to me, and this is just my thoughts, to tell students that they can be exempted for religious reasons is actually untrue and I wonder how this is justified in a Catholic college. We certainly are instilling in students that they can disregard authorities. Great lesson for students that is very radical and disrespectful and potentially is a risk for our population of compromised individuals, children, general population and for the students and staff themselves.
        Again, the comment is not meant to be rude or argumentative but it is born from the statements and out pouring of letters and comments that indicate that policy at the Academy and preaching from professors seem to not match. This particular comment seems to prove this to be true.

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