As the Freedom Convoy demonstrations continued in Ottawa and elsewhere throughout Canada, some Renfrew County residents staged their own protest against mandated Covid regulations. Madawaska Valley supporters were on hand along Hwy.17 at Pembroke when the Convoy rolled through on Jan.28, and while some have also participated in the protest in Ottawa, others have demonstrated against mandatory Covid regulations closer to home.
Following local media reports of some Opeongo High School students protesting last week, the Renfrew County and District School Board (RCDSB) emailed parents on Feb.9 to notify them of the relaxation of mask mandates coming into effect on Feb.10 and to say that RCDSB was aware of “information circulating online inviting students, parents and others to protest at schools across Ontario on Friday, February 11 at 2:00 pm. The event(s) are in support of ending mask mandates and all restrictions in place at schools, and individuals are asked to bring “signs and letters” to schools.” RCDSB went on to warn that the event was not sanctioned by the District, that hateful symbols or messaging would not be tolerated, and that schools were at liberty to call in the OPP if necessary. Parents were advised to stay neutral if they encountered a protest, and were also told that students who participated in a demonstration during a class period would be marked absent.
Valley residents (some of them school parents) confirmed to The Current that one such demo was planned for St. John Bosco Catholic School in Barry’s Bay on Friday afternoon. They learned about it from a parent’s Facebook page where she called for supporters to gather at the school at 2pm. In response, an outpouring of comments – for and against – flooded her Facebook post. But any mention of the protest was absent from Bosco school’s Facebook page which showed a Feb.9 Parent Update advising that Covid rules would be relaxed as of Feb.10 so that students could “remove their masks when outdoors for recess and lunch.”
The Current visited the Catholic elementary school office first, where Bosco principal Julie Dumouchel was tight-lipped, saying only that she had “No comment.” With very few people outside that school – the small turnout possibly due to Ontario’s State of Emergency declared just that morning – we checked both Madawaska Valley District High School and Sherwood PS and found no unusual activity. Returning to Bosco a few minutes later, we observed three or four cars parked on the shoulder of the exit road from the school; two Canadian flags were flying and a large cardboard sign saying “Freedom” was in evidence. At that time we observed fewer than a dozen adults and children, some enjoying hot chocolate and donuts.
When asked for a statement, the protesters – like Principal Dumouchel – refused to be drawn into comment, indicating a concern that their words might be twisted “like mainstream media.” One man who did not wish to be named told The Current that everyone in Canada knows why there are protests against Covid mandates. He and two other unidentified men briefly complained about ever-changing Covid regulations and said they felt the mask mandate is inappropriate for young children who until yesterday were unable to see their friends’ faces at recess and lunch. Eventually he did say we could report the words that his four-year-old daughter shyly offered. Prompted by her father, the Junior Kindergarten student at Bosco repeated a little louder, “I don’t want to wear a mask.”