Canada

Ganonoque protesters take concerns over vaccines, certificates to town hall

Rally organized by town councillor and attracted about 160 people

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GANANOQUE, Ont. — A group of demonstrators in front of town hall took aim at Premier Doug Ford’s vaccine certificate system Sunday morning, arguing the jab is a matter of personal choice.

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“People are nervous about taking the vaccine and they’re afraid to let people know that they’re afraid of the vaccine,” said rally organizer Mike Kench.

Some 25 people took part in the roughly hour-long protest, waving placards likening the vaccine passport system to authoritarianism, and in some cases questioning the need for the COVID-19 vaccine.

Kench, a town councillor, said the demonstration was “an independent event” he organized not as a councillor but as a private citizen.

“I don’t know why it’s a controversial topic,” said Kench, adding the protest was not meant to oppose vaccines, but rather to defend individuals’ right to choose.

Some passing motorists honked their car horns in support of the small group, eliciting cheers.

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It was the second time in less than a week that protesters in Gananoque have demonstrated against COVID-19-related measures.

On Wednesday, the People’s Party of Canada brought its anti-mask, anti-lockdown message to town at a federal election rally attended by about 160 people. Speakers included local PPC candidate Alex Cassell and Independent MPP Randy Hillier, from neighbouring Lanark-Frontenac-Kingston, who has been outspoken in his opposition to COVID prevention measures such as masks and lockdowns.

Last week, Ford announced that Ontario residents will have to prove they have been fully vaccinated before they can enter non-essential businesses, including bars, restaurants, gyms, sporting events and movie theatres, as of Sept. 22.

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Ford said the measure is necessary to protect residents against the spread of the Delta variant, to guard against hospitals being overwhelmed by a fourth wave of COVID-19 and to ensure that businesses can remain open.

Participants at a rally opposing Ontario’s planned vaccine passport system demonstrate in front of Gananoque town hall on Sunday morning.
Participants at a rally opposing Ontario’s planned vaccine passport system demonstrate in front of Gananoque town hall on Sunday morning. Photo by Ronald Zajac /Postmedia

The Leeds, Grenville and Lanark District Health Unit continues to urge area residents to get both doses of the COVID-19 vaccine. While the tri-county area has led the province in most age groups for vaccine uptake, the health unit had been pushing for a target of 90 per cent of the eligible population getting both doses of the vaccine ahead of most schools reopening on Tuesday.

Kench, however, said he is “vaccine hesitant,” adding people in the community have died of side effects from the COVID-19 vaccine such as heart attacks or strokes.

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He would not elaborate when asked how many deaths he believes are attributable to the vaccine.

In an emailed statement, Dr. Paula Stewart, the tri-county medical officer of health, said: “There have been no deaths specifically linked to stroke in Ontario after the COVID-19 vaccine.”

Stewart also cited a report by Public Health Ontario, which notes that all deaths temporally associated with the COVID-19 vaccine (which happened after the patient received the vaccine) are investigated.

As of Aug. 28, the report notes, there are 35 reports of deaths temporally associated with the vaccine under investigation.

“Preliminary information suggests that these events occurred in individuals with multiple co-morbidities which may be related to the cause of death,” it adds.

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“There has been no association with vaccine identified at this time.”

Public health officials say side effects from the COVID-19 vaccine are rare.

Kench said he and his children, who are too young to be eligible for the COVID vaccine, have been vaccinated against other diseases, and he is not opposed to getting the COVID jab “if the data changes.”

“If the numbers change, when I am comfortable getting the vaccine, I will get the vaccine,” said Kench.

Kench said the vaccine passport system is discriminatory, in part because it assumes people like himself won’t take precautions to prevent getting or spreading the disease.

“It blows my mind that now, all of a sudden, we are promoting discrimination,” said Kench.

“You cannot discriminate against me and assume that I have a disease if I walk into a business.”

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At last count, the Leeds, Grenville and Lanark area reported nine active cases of the virus, one of them in the West Leeds area that includes Gananoque. Those numbers are as of 4 p.m. on Thursday; the health unit is not updating the figures over the long weekend.

Mayor Ted Lojko said Sunday his colleagues on council are free to express individual opinions, but the town has a track record of supporting public health authorities in their measures to halt the spread of COVID-19.

“We’ve been fairly diligent in ensuring that people are getting vaccinated,” said Lojko.

“We will follow the guidelines and the requirements of the legislation of the province, and the federal government if there is such a thing,” added the mayor.

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Lojko was also not aware of any deaths in the community related to the COVID-19 vaccine. The mayor cautioned against drawing causal links between individual deaths and the vaccine.

Kench ended the rally by gauging interest among participants in holding another demonstration the following week.

Participants approached by a reporter declined to comment, with many saying Kench’s words reflect their opinions, while one person cited the fear of being “ostracized.”

One participant, who would not speak to media, said: “We’re not tinfoil hatters, just brave Canadians.”

Rzajac@postmedia.com

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