Myka misses her Sunday school classes and she’s no fan of wearing masks.
This COVID thing has gone on way too long and she can’t wait till the day she can walk into a store without wearing a mask. She doesn’t have the freedom to congregate with her friends from church like she used to and as far as she’s concerned that’s just wrong.
Wearing a T-shirt with a tattered Canadian flag emblazoned with the words The Resistance, the 10-year-old girl joined forces with a 45-person anti-lockdown convoy from Kelowna that came the Battle for Canada Worship Protest Tour to rally a crowd of about 200 people who gathered for a night of live music Saturday at Lheidli T’enneh Memorial Park.
“I don’t like masks, especially when you sweat and it goes into the mask and you like breathe it in,” she said. “I don’t believe in the vaccine because I’m healthy and don’t need it. If we get vaccinated you don’t know what happens. We want to bring awareness to other people.”
Like Myka, her 10-year-old step-sister, Faith, is home-schooled but they both have friends in Kelowna still being forced to cover their faces all day long while they attend school, despite the gradual loosening of provincial health orders over the past month. She’s hopeful that restriction will end Tuesday, with the province expecting to announce a shift to Step 2 of its restart plan.
“I hope kids won’t have to be locked up in homes and that kids don’t have to wear masks in school,” said Faith. “I’ll be praying about it. They shouldn’t shut down churches because of COVID.”
Kelowna pastor Art Lucier, MC for the protest rally, also led tour protests in Edmonton Wednesday and Thursday and Edson on Friday. Calling himself "the bad pastor of Kelowna that never shut his church," Lucier saluted all the other church leaders in the northern B.C. region who have kept their churches open.
“We do not get our freedom from government, we get our freedom from God himself and from the Canadian charter of rights and freedoms,” said Lucier. “When there are elected officials who will not recognize the laws of the land and the Canadian charter and the supremacy of God, we will no longer listen. Thus, welcome you bunch of rebels. You know you’re not allowed to be here.”
Lucier’s Harvest Church in Kelowna was twice issued $2,300 fines in January for defying public health orders to close the church for in-person gatherings. Even now, with churches permitted since June 6 to have indoor gatherings of up to 50 masked people, Lucier still considers the current restrictions a hypocritical infringement considering grocery and department stores have never had to close during the pandemic because they are considered essential.
“When we were locked out of our church, the bar right next to us was allowed to be full, unmasked, eating wings and having a great time and we weren’t even allowed to have six people with masks, and so we are here to make a statement using our worship as a form of protest,” Lucier said.
“We are here saying worship is essential, churches are essential. A government that says churches aren’t essential, to me, needs to be defied. We don’t recognize that power. We want people to stand up for freedom, freedom is not free. We’re losing our freedom and it’s time for the church to stand up for Canada.”
Travis Ganong joined the weeklong tour and brought his wife and their five kids from Kelowna with him to speak out against the lockdowns he says are causing profound detrimental effects, especially on children.
“In B.C. they’ve shut down church altogether and it’s not logical in any way, the church brings healing and restoration,” said Ganong. “It’s not the government’s job to tell us. These restrictions and the so-called pandemic, regardless of where you stand on it, bring a lot of destruction in its wake. People are being locked in their houses in unsafe situations and kids are absolutely the worst-affected.”
Ganong’s wife Tyla says people are naturally social creatures and need to interact with other people to function properly in their daily lives and it’s not up to governments to deny their rights to gather, as they have done for much of the past 15 months since the start of the pandemic.
“What people don’t understand about worship and about connecting with people, we are beings that are built for relationships and human contact and if you isolate people, suicides go up, domestic abuse goes up, and drug abuse goes up because people need other people around them,” she said.
“Overdose deaths in B.C. have actually surpassed three times what the COVID deaths are and that’s not OK. What we should have done in the beginning, since most of the people passing away from COVID are seniors in seniors homes, why don’t we put our resources and time into the care homes so they’re taken care of and quarantine the sick. This is the first time in history that we’ve quarantined healthy people. It’s backwards.”
Ruth-Ann Dyck drove from Fort St. John to Prince George with her husband Ryan specifically to attend the rally. Their seven-year-old daughter quit her dance class after getting bullied by other kids for not wearing a mask, even though, because she was under the age of 12, it was not requirement of the dance studio.
“I think for kids, the psychological damage is done, it will take years for kids to not look suspiciously when they don’t have a mask on,” said Ruth-Ann. “They’ve been fed a narrative and they’ve been told to be mean to people about it. Adults are mean to people about it and it’s disgusting on social media the way people are bullying each other and it’s trickling down to our kids.
“I hope with this tour people see that there should be freedom. Honestly, if you want to wear a mask and get vaccinated and you want to do all the things the government suggests, fine, do that. That’s your freedom and I’m not saying anything mean to you about it. We don’t see hatred here and we see people protesting the protests, like in some cities, and that in itself is a win, that we can gather.”
On Friday, Maxime Bernier, leader of the federal People’s Party of Canada and a stanch opponent of Canada’s COVID health restrictions, was arrested at an anti-lockdown rally in St-Pierre-Jolys, Man., for failing to observe the province’s public health order requiring visitors from other provinces to self-isolate for 14 days. He had planned to attend similar protests in Manitoba throughout the weekend. After attending a bail hearing, Bernier was released and flew back to his home in Montreal.