VANCOUVER -- About 500 people gathered at the Vancouver Art Gallery Saturday afternoon to protest ongoing public health orders aimed at combatting transmission of COVID-19.

One day after being fired by the Vancouver Canucks over his planned participation in the rally, anthem singer Mark Donnelly opened the gathering with a rendition of “O Canada.” 

He also made a lengthy speech touching on his views about the pandemic response and his dismissal from his duties with the Canucks at Rogers Arena, where has regularly sung the American and Canadian national anthems before games for two decades.

“I’m standing up against what I feel is tyranny, plain and simple,” he told the crowd.

Donnelly’s participation in the event first became public Friday and Canucks owner Francisco Aquilini responded quickly via Twitter.

Donnelly says he has not been personally contacted by the Canucks about not being brought back to sing the anthem at future games.

“As I do not use Twitter, I cannot personally confirm that this is true,” he told the crowd. “I’ll assume the flurry of texts, phone calls and emails asking for my comment indicate that it is in fact true.”

Donnelly went on to make some inaccurate claims about the pandemic and the government’s response to it.

“All jurisdictions are discussing mandatory vaccinations,” he said.

Public health officials at the federal and provincial levels have repeatedly said COVID-19 vaccination will be voluntary for Canadians.

“Social distancing, face masks, restrictions and or closures of schools, businesses, churches and support for special needs children, is ineffective, unnecessary and harmful,” Donnelly added.

B.C. provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry has been advocating social distancing since the pandemic began and has been encouraging people to wear masks in public indoor spaces for months.

Many in the crowd at the rally were vocally supportive of Donnelly.

"To lose his job because of what he believes in? I'm sorry, but that's one of the reasons why we’re here,” said a man who did not want to be identified.

He also said he had driven from Kelowna to attend the event.

Henry has strongly encouraged British Columbians not to travel at this time.

On the False Creek seawall near Rogers Arena, a handful of people who spoke to CTV News Vancouver had different opinions on the Canucks’ handling of the situation.

“I just think it was a bad choice on Mark Donnelly’s part,” one man said.

“The Canucks are privately held,” said another woman. “The Aquilinis can do what they want.”

Back at the art gallery, the crowd listened to a series of speeches before marching through downtown, defiantly disregarding public health orders intended to protect everyone’s health and safety during the pandemic.  

At least two dozen Vancouver police officers stood off to the side of the rally, but they did not take any action against people openly violating public health orders.

“Vancouver police officers exercise their discretion in the enforcement of public health orders," said media relations officer Const. Tania Visintin in an email to CTV News. "They must weigh a citizen’s right to peacefully protest with the current potential harm of gatherings ... Mass arrests are not possible or desirable. Ticketing and arrests could escalate an already passionate situation, and when there are larger groups of people, the risk of injury to both protestors and police officers rises.”