Alberta Premier Jason Kenney is condemning recent protests against public-health measures, dismissing the demonstrators as “unhinged” conspiracy theorists who crossed a line by threatening the province’s top medical official.
Mr. Kenney’s rebuke was prompted by weekend protests outside GraceLife Church, near Edmonton, which Alberta Health Services fenced off because it ignored orders limiting capacity for places of worship and requiring masks. Pastor James Coates, who has been charged with violating the province’s Public Health Act, was jailed for more than a month for refusing to abide by those public-health orders as part of his bail conditions.
A demonstration at the church on Sunday attracted protesters, some from other parts of the province, pushing a wide array of grievances, including opposition to lockdowns, masks and vaccines. Some carried signs denying the seriousness of the COVID-19 pandemic, and others compared the public-health measures to communism. The next day at the provincial legislature in Edmonton, some protesters chanted “lock her up” in reference to Alberta’s Chief Medical Officer of Health, Deena Hinshaw.
Mr. Kenney said that while he supports the public’s right to protest, he called on people to stop spouting “offensive” threats and lies.
“It is increasingly clear that many involved in these protests are unhinged conspiracy theorists. Their words and actions are unacceptable,” Mr. Kenney said in a statement posted to social media.
“Reasonable people can disagree about the best way to respond to the threat of this pandemic. But spreading misinformation, conspiracy theories, and making threats is beyond the pale.”
Anti-lockdown protesters have been holding events in Calgary, Edmonton and other parts of the province throughout the pandemic, with their size appearing to swell each time new public-health measures are imposed. The government recently ordered restaurants to close their dining rooms, and tightened other measures in response to skyrocketing COVID-19 numbers driven by more infectious variants.
Mr. Kenney has also faced vocal opposition from his supporters and even his own United Conservative Party MLAs, 18 of whom publicly objected to those measures. A handful of businesses and churches have openly defied the rules.
On Tuesday, Mr. Kenney said people opposed to public-health measures should look at Ontario, where hospitals are under intense strain as intensive care units fill up.
“My commitment to Albertans is we will not go there, we will not put our doctors in a position of deciding which patients live or die,” he said. “...If Ontario can run out of ICU capacity, we can do so here, too.”
Dr. Hinshaw said the protesters are putting their anger ahead of their communities and don’t represent most Albertans.
“It’s understandable that people feel frustrated and angry,” she said on Tuesday.
“It’s critical that we use evidence, that we use the best available information about what’s happening here in Alberta, and learn from other places around the world to protect our communities against what could be a very significant wave of COVID-19.”
Dr. Hinshaw declined to comment on whether she had taken any additional steps to protect her own safety, but said she has the resources and support she needs.
At the Sunday protest outside GraceLife Church, some protesters tore down parts of the fencing, although videos on social media showed others helped police put it back.
The adjacent Enoch Cree Nation said in a statement that some protesters trespassed on the nation’s land. Chief Billy Morin’s vehicle was vandalized.
Mr. Coates, the pastor, said in a statement that he appreciates the support and understands the outrage. Lawyer John Carpay, whose Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms is representing Mr. Coates, said the church had nothing to do with the protest.
“That church site is under the control of the police and Alberta Health Services, so the church has no involvement with whatever happened there on Sunday,” Mr. Carpay said.
He said Mr. Coates held a Sunday service at an undisclosed location. The pastor is waiting a trial in May, although Mr. Carpay said the province is seeking to delay it by several months.
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