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Barrie amphitheatre fencing off to prevent weekend 'freedom rally'

'The gatherings that put people's lives at risk need to stop,' says mayor

After seven weeks of illegal gatherings in downtown Barrie, the city said this morning it will be fencing off Meridian Place immediately in an effort to prevent more anti-lockdown demonstrations.

Mayor Jeff Lehman issued an emergency order on Thursday to close and fence off the area where crowds of protesters have been congregating every Saturday for almost two months. 

In a city-issued news release Thursday, Lehman said the emergency order was signed in the interest of public health and safety. 

“The gatherings that put people's lives at risk need to stop," he said. "I want to thank residents of Barrie who have stayed home to keep each other safe at this critical point in the pandemic. The city will continue to pursue additional steps to stop illegal gatherings and hold those responsible accountable."

Last week, Lehman said fencing or barricades at the downtown square were unlikely because they were "not seen as an effective solution."

Lehman was unavailable for comment this morning. 

Barrie police communications co-ordinator Peter Leon told BarrieToday on Wednesday that police will continue to follow their graduated response model that has been seen at the public demonstrations in recent weeks.

“The operational plan which we have developed to deal with gatherings that are specific to the COVID -19 pandemic is designed to be flexible and provides us with a professional approach that incorporates the requirement to respect any and all public health guidelines,” Leon said.

“Our emphasis has always been focused and will remain focused on the continued safety of our community," he added.

On Tuesday, the city released a statement reiterating its stance against the rallies and saying while the “gatherings remain subject to police enforcement with respect to the provincial stay-at-home order, provincial legislation and regulations, the city is exploring all available actions to stop these gatherings, including possible court action for an injunction to restrain the organizers.”

The most recent rally took place last Saturday and saw some pushback from people who are upset that the anti-maskers are breaking public health regulations. They created noise to drown out some of the speakers and the names of COVID victims were written in chalk on the ground at the public square. 

Police said about 10 people were ticketed with $880 fines at Saturday’s ‘freedom rally' for breaching Ontario’s stay-at-home order.

Police handed out nine tickets during the previous two Saturdays, one on April 10 to the organizer and eight on April 17 to the organizer and seven attendees. 

A 55-year-old Barrie woman also has a June 2 court date after being charged with obstructing police for allegedly failing to provide her name to officers when asked by officers. She was also given a Provincial Offences Act summons for failing to comply with an order made during a declared emergency.