Organizers called Saturday’s Tillsonburg to Norwich rally a freedom parade.
“No More Lockdowns, we’re having a peaceful protest,” said Tillsonburg area participant Jared Pettman.
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“Standing up for freedom of choice,” said Tillsonburg participant Jessica Van Leeuwen.
“Farmers, people from all over Tillsonburg,” said Pettman. “Lots of ag equipment here, just showing our passion for being locked down for over 400 days now.”
“Freedom of choice,” nodded Van Leeuwen.
The cars, trucks, and tractors gathering in the parking lot at 400 Simcoe St., just east of Tillsonburg on the western edge of Norfolk County, also included visitors from out of town, including Aylmer.
“We’re going from here, up Tillson (Avenue) to Ostrander Road (through Springford and Otterville), up Hwy 50 into Norwich.”
In Norwich, rally participants gathered to listen to guest speakers, including MP Derek Sloan (Hasings-Lennox and Addington).
“And we’re going to have beef on a bun – can’t say who’s doing it,” Pettman smiled.
Pettman said he wants to be back outside playing sports again. “We want to be outside enjoying ourselves.”
“Get the children’s brains happy again,” said Van Leeuwen.
“Take the masks off,” said Pettman. “What are the masks doing anyways? What have the lockdowns proven? How long does it take to flatten a curve? How flat does the curve have to be?”
Asked to estimate how many people were gathered in the parking lot, Van Leeuwen said, “Hundreds.”
“It’s hard to say,” said Pettman, looking around.”
“Maybe thousands,” said Van Leeuwen.
“I have no idea,” Pettman laughed.
OPP officers made their presence known Saturday morning prominently parking a cruiser at the parking lot entrance, with others on site.
“It’s peaceful, we’re going to abide by the laws,” said Pettman. “All we’re trying to do is raise awareness.”
Scheduled to begin shortly after 10:30 a.m., the parade was still heading north on Tillson Avenue at 11:30 a.m.
Asked how many cars were still coming, one participant said “at least 200.”
Fifteen minutes later, another participant said “at least 200 more.”
Many had Canadian flags, No More Lockdowns signs, and homemade signs, and there was constant stream of honking horns.
The final parade participant left Tillsonburg at 12:19 p.m. followed by an OPP cruiser.
Medical officer of health Dr. Joyce Lock said last week the rally would be an issue of concern.
“First of all, that breaches the gathering limits and the Stay-at-Home Order,” said Lock.
“We, at Public Health, always have significant concerns when people congregate. I must say that now that we have 70 per cent of our cases coming back as a Variant of Concern, having these crowds gather in this kind of way is an issue of concern.
“There are other ways to express your opinion and to show that you may disagree with the Province on the way that its policies are going. We suggest and encourage people with dissenting opinions to use other venues that avoid using methodologies that require people to gather together and breach the physical distance requirements.”
Provincially, Lock said the curve has turned down since the lockdown came into place. Daily incident rates have been falling and in the Oxford-Elgin region, they are “coming down nicely.”
“If the combined efforts of the lockdown, plus the enhanced vaccine rollout in hot spots, starts to pay off we expect to see – and hope to see – the daily incident rates continue to go down, and that would bode for good news in terms of opening up the province.
“That said, although the rate of new admissions to ICUs at hospitals have been flattening out, they still are substantive in their numbers and our province continues to struggle with adequate resources within the hospitals and the ICUS to manage these patients,” Lock concluded. “So we’ll have to watch how that goes as well.”