Meanwhile, oganizers told the rally ‘not welcome’ in Land of 12-Foot Davis
South Peace News
A controversial rally against COVID restrictions was cancelled in Peace River after community members spoke out against it.
Benita Pedersen was a DJ before the coronavirus disrupted live entertainment. She has been organizing controversial “freedom rallies” in various rural northern communities. The rallies have been organized through her “All Fired Up” DJ business page on Facebook.
Pedersen held rallies in Whitecourt March 3 and Slave Lake March 4. However, the rally she had advertised in Peace River for March 5 never materialized.
Joanne Boutet sent an email to Pedersen in advance of the planned March 5 event asking Pedersen not to come to Peace River, a letter she also sent to Peace River’s mayor and council.
“This letter represents over a hundred like-minded Peace Riverites,” Boutet writes.
“We have concerns about your visit.”
Boutet was one of several residents in Peace River who successfully advocated for a local mask bylaw as a way to combat the spread of the coronvirus.
“We understand that your message is that COVID safety measures and restrictions are unnecessary and oppressive. I read the letter that your speaker, Chris Schaefer, a safety technician, wrote to Dr. Hinshaw. In his argument that mask wearing affects health and that mask wearers are not protected from COVID- 19 [he even opposes sanitizer], nowhere does he consider the greater reason for the mask, which is to protect others,” Boutet writes.
“This message is not welcome here. Our masking bylaw was supported because Peace Riverites want to protect and help each other despite inconvenience or discomfort.”
In the letter Boutet also writes, “The Alberta government has mishandled the management of this virus probably due in large part to the kind of pressure that people with a message like yours have put on the premier. Despite this mismanagement, our community has done its best to support local businesses. We are not immune to economic effects, but we are lucky to have continued support to shop local and continue to utilize local services because we do so safely. Your message undermines this safety. We will come through this economic challenge better together without your interference.”
Pedersens rallies have been controversial not only due to her opposition to COVID guidelines, but due to the symbolism of asking participants at some of her rallies to bring tiki torches.
Tiki torches were used by hate groups at the deadly Charlottesville rally in the US. A recent “Jericho torch rally” at the Alberta Legislature was condemned by the official opposition and also by Premier Jason Kenney, who first faced criticism for his delayed response.
In an official statement issued two days after the Feb. 20 rally, Kenney said, I understand that publicity for this event incorporated an image apparently taken from the notorious 2017 Charlottesville torch rally, which was an explicitly white supremacist event.
“Prominent racists promoted Saturday’s protest at the legislature, and individuals attended the event from known hate groups like the Soldiers of Odin and Urban Infidels. I condemn these voices of bigotry in the strongest possible terms.”
Pedersen insists her own use of fire symbolism at the All Fired Up For Freedom rallies is related to her long-time branding of her DJ business and is meant to be inspirational.
Boutet rejects that idea.
In her letter, she writes, “Fired Up for Freedom has been linked with racism. Your choice of the torch as a symbol for your movement reflects this. National negative attention was brought to our neighbouring town of Grimshaw, when a man wore a KKK-like hood in public. We do not want any individual or group that has been associated with hatred in our streets. It will affect our morale. It may hurt our businesses. It is not who we are. We will not have racist emblems in our town. In this we are unequivocal.
“We would thank you not to bring your rally to our town. Not on March 5. Not ever,” she concludes.
Councillor Johanna Downing responded to Boutet’s email. Boutet shared her response with other mask advocates in the community who had been discussing a potential counterprotest.
Downing says of the rallies, “My immediate personal response is disgust. I am very empathetic to the challenges being faced by many as we navigate a global pandemic. I understand [but don’t agree with] why people would want to challenge and not follow what is being directed by our public health leadership. It has been a very stressful year.”
However, she added she was deeply concerned” about the racist undertones of these rallies.
“I am hopeful that very few people show up and that this rally gets no real traction in our area,” she says.
It appears Downing has gotten her wish.
Boutet says she received an email back from Pedersen on March 5 informing her the rally was cancelled.
Pedersen says she still hopes to hold a rally in town at a later date, not yet specified.