Sheila Parenteau lives by the code that a mind is like a parachute and it doesn’t work unless it’s open.
The 88-year-old retired registered nurse says it’s time for people to start questioning what our politicians and health authorities are telling us about the safety of COVID-19 vaccines and think before they sign up for their shots.
“As far as I’m concerned, every Canadian should open their eyes and see how tyrannical this is, they can’t win unless you let them,” said Parenteau, who stood in the rain Saturday morning holding her sign along Ospika Bolulevard as she joined the Prince George and Area Freedom Rally barbecue in front of the CN Centre parking lot, part of an ongoing weekly protest against provincial public health orders that’s been happening in the city since mid-March.
Parenteau says the pandemic and how it has been handled by federal and provincial health authorities has divided the country and caused family members to resent each other for their differing beliefs on how to fight the virus that has killed nearly 25,000 Canadians.
She worries about unknown, longterm effects of the vaccines.
“My daughter is firmly convinced and she’s had the vaccine,” said Parenteau. “But as far as I’m concerned, I remember when they brought thalidomide out, passed by the FDA, and we all know what that brought about. That is why I’m fighting in this rally. I’m here every week and I will not miss a week.”
Parenteau graduated from nursing school when she was already a grandmother at age 53. She worked for 21 years in Toronto hospitals until she retired in 2011 and part of her job was overseeing patients in infectious disease wards. She said Canada’s COVID response over the past year to keep people away from each other has resulted in corresponding spike in suicide rates.
The pandemic has caused people to lose their jobs or have had their work hours reduced, businesses have faltered, there are more incidents of domestic abuse and Parenteau is convinced the risks associated with becoming infected do not justify the harmful social costs she believes are tied to the current health orders.
“As far as I’m concerned right now, the government is not working for us, it’s working against us and, so help me, I pray every day that sanity will prevail,” she said.
“My life is not the same. There’s alienation between my sisters. I haven’t even seen my great-grandson yet. He lives in Terrace and I was going to go visit but I wasn’t allowed to go. Honestly, how we behave now is a legacy we will leave our children, grandchildren and future generations. Will it be democracy or tyranny?”
Dani Darvin attended Saturday’s rally with her five-year-old daughter and her hope is that more people will begin to question why the current health restrictions are still in place.
“Our freedoms are at risk and we’re fighting against the things that aren’t based on science and it’s affecting our children, it’s affecting our communities and it’s affecting our economy,” said Darvin.
“I’m just in it for the people who are struggling to not struggle. Businesses are going under right now while corporations are prospering,” she said. “It’s fine to fear for the people that are vulnerable and fear for the people being compromised, but for us to fear over things that are not logical and for us to lose jobs and lose our family security, the proportion is not right. Our jobs are being affected and our priorities are not in the right areas. Just as many or more people are overdosing on drugs. The same people pumping the vaccine are pumping the opioid crisis.”
Darvin says mask-wearing during the pandemic should be a choice, not a requirement, even while new cases of COVID-19 continue to plague the country. She doesn’t believe masks effectively prevent transmission of the virus, as advocated by health authorities.
Darvin’s daughter’s social interactions with her young peers have been crippled by the restrictions and lockdowns in place in some form for the past 14 months and she worries about the longterm implications.
“There’s a lack of people smiling and children are scared of each other,” Darvin said. “I love seeing them interact and talk to each other and stuff. Some kids, their parents are pulling them away from us because we could be affected by germs and it’s not right to be fearful of this and for children to have those viewpoints. Their immune systems are amazing and we should treat them as such.”
About 200 protesters showed up for the Saturday’s rally waving signs at passing motorists on the busy thoroughfare. Some honked their approval while others reacted with a middle-finger salute.
Twelve-year-old Martina Pagnotta was there with her dad holding a sign that read: Kids Are Not A Science Project. She says there hasn’t been enough testing on the vaccine to convince her they are safe. Like everyone else, she’s sick of lockdowns and requirements to wear a mask in public places.
“I don’t think there should be any lockdowns,” said Pagnotta. “School has been hard with COVID. We have to wear masks all day in class and it really sucks. We can’t do anything and that realty does suck. You want to get COVID to end and get back to normal.”
Her father Luciano, has attended the protests every week. He says the adverse reactions of people to the vaccines has been under-reported in the media.
“They have to wait the six or seven months because nobody knows what’s going to happen, longterm studies have never been done, and we are the experiment and they know that, and that’s why we’re out here,” he said. “My child is not going to be part of that experiment. We’re not going near the vaccine.”
A Northern Health spokesperson said Friday that public health officials are aware of the rallies and outdoor rallies – including those against public health orders – are permitted by B.C.'s public health orders.
In an order issued on May 7, provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry acknowledged the need to balance the protection of public health and safety against individuals' rights under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
"In consequence, I am not prohibiting outdoor assemblies for the purpose of communicating a position on a matter of public interest or controversy, subject to my expectation that persons organizing or attending such an assembly will take the steps and put in place the measures recommended in the guidelines posted on my website in order to limit the risk of transmission of COVID-1," Henry wrote.
Northern Health's public health officers, "have endeavoured to make contact with organizers of various events (rallies, protests or otherwise), where possible, to help optimize their COVID safety plans, or encourage them to have one in place," the Northern Health spokesperson added.
On Thursday, a spokesperson for the City of Prince George said the role of the city's bylaw officers is primarily to educate the public about public health orders, rather than to act in an enforcement role.
At previous rallies, protesters stayed on the berm between Ospika Boulevard and the CN Centre parking lot, which is public property, the spokesperson said. However, the group would need to obtain a permit to use CN Centre's parking lot for any type of event.
"In order to obtain that permit, they would have to have a COVID safety plan," the spokesperson said. "Given the nature of the group, they have not done that."
The spokesperson declined to comment of what penalties rally organizers would face if Saturday's event spilled over onto city property.
Earlier this month, Prince George RCMP spokesperson Cst. Jennifer Cooper said police received a complaint about the group's rally held on May 1.
"Police attended and found the protesters to be peaceful and to be maintaining their social distance from one another, so took no enforcement action," Cooper said in an email. "Additionally, with the Supreme Court ruling in Beaudoin v. British Columbia from last month, it has found that the (public health officer) could not prevent people from protesting as it is a violation of their Charter rights. RCMP in Prince George will monitor the situation to ensure the safety of the public, but will not be handing out COVID violation tickets for participating in the planned events."