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Guelphites stand up to out-of-town 'COVID is over' protesters

Although the 'Hugs over Masks' group received some support from people passing by it received more middle fingers and a visit from the Grim Reaper

Anti-mask and anti-vaccine protesters who have been travelling across Ontario holding 'COVID is over' and 'hugs over masks' rallies were in Guelph’s St. George’s Square on Sunday, but not without some vocal opposition from locals.

Although organizer Kelly Anne Wolfe said the group is not anti-mask, that was contradicted when another protester lit a surgical mask on fire to applause from the back of the pick-up truck that was acting as a stage for the event.

In January, Toronto Police Service arrested Wolfe under her real name, Kelly Anne Farkas, at a similar rally in Yonge-Dundas Square and charged her with common nuisance. Wolfe told the crowd on Sunday she has been arrested three times.

In a video posted to Facebook on Saturday, Wolfe encouraged supporters from grey zones in Ontario to come to Guelph to participate in the rally. Wolfe was present at a similar rally held Saturday in Barrie. 

Officers with the Guelph Police Service were nearby at Sunday’s rally in St. George’s Square but did not interfere during its approximate two-hour duration.

The crowd of about 40 people stood together without masks and without physical distancing and protesters were often seen hugging and dancing together in the square.

The group said it believed in ‘facts not fear’ but used obvious misinformation and half-truths to draw response from the crowd, many of whom travelled from out of town, said Wolfe. It was unclear how many in the crowd were actually from Guelph and how many travelled from other areas in Ontario.

At one point Wolfe said the recent '70 deaths' that occurred in a retirement home in Barrie was the result of those residents being vaccinated, but the COVID-19 outbreak that resulted in dozens of deaths was declared before the vaccine was even made available to residents and those who tested positive for the virus were ineligible to receive it.

In a January interview, Simcoe County’s associate medical officer of health said many of those deaths could possibly have been avoided if they had received the vaccine earlier.

The protesters held up signs to passing motorists and handed out papers with information. Although the rally was mostly peaceful a few shouting matches occurred between passers-by and the protesters and middle fingers were waved at times from both sides.

About halfway through the rally a woman dressed as the Grim Reaper appeared and cheered on the protesters, almost all of who were not wearing masks. In character, the woman said she would be seeing all of them soon and said tongue-in-cheek that she was a supporter of their cause.

Although she declined to give her real name, the woman told GuelphToday she lives in Guelph.

The woman playfully walked through the crowd and received some shoves. After warning the crowd not to touch her she accepted a hug from one of the protesters.

That same protester, who was carrying a ‘I miss your smile’ sign, was involved in a number of shouting matches with people opposed to the rally.

One of those verbal exchanges happened with Sip Club owner John Dewey, who moved his speakers outside his establishment across the street from the rally to drown out the protesters’ own sound system.

Dewey told GuelphToday as the owner of a local business he wants the pandemic to be over as much as anyone, but he doesn’t understand how not wearing a mask and not physically distancing will help reach that goal.

“What is the benefit to them in not wearing a mask?” said Dewey. “What is the best thing that could happen with this crowded group of people possibly spreading the virus?”

Dewey said the protester who came over to argue tried to assure him he doesn’t have the virus.

“That doesn’t matter,” said Dewey. “The virus doesn’t care who you are or about your religion or your politics.”

Dewey said he would much rather things were back to normal and that people didn’t have to physically distance or wear masks, but that is the reality right now and he accepts it.

“Do you know how many people give me a hard time, like I’m the one who decided we can’t have 150 people anymore, we can only have 10? Like I am the one who decided we are going to close at nine,” said Dewey. “I told my staff we should get t-shirts that say ‘fun police’ because it’s the opposite of why I got into this business.”

Dewey has been trying to find ways to keep a fun vibe in the Sip Club, like broadcasting live music to the stage from the bands’ rehearsal spaces to keep everyone safe.

“That’s how I am keeping the spirit while keeping everyone safe,” said Dewey. 

After the brief exchange, both men went their separate ways, Dewey continued playing music on his P.A. and the rally continued. The other man was later seen getting into other shouting matches with people passing by.

Across the street, Olivia Snow of Guelph stood masked with a megaphone, at times shouting pro-mask sayings.

Snow said it was important to be present and heard to make sure people passing by knew there was another side to the argument.

“I kept my distance to make sure it was known I am separate from them. I don’t want to get mixed up with them and I don’t want to catch anything either,” said Snow.


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Kenneth Armstrong

About the Author: Kenneth Armstrong

Kenneth Armstrong is a news reporter and photojournalist who regularly covers municipal government, business and politics and photographs events, sports and features.
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