Anti-mask protesters, conspiracy theorists march through downtown Vancouver
VANCOUVER -- About a thousand people gathered for a rally at the Vancouver Art Gallery Saturday afternoon, listening to a series of speeches before marching through downtown to protest against mandatory mask policies, lockdowns, and potential COVID-19 vaccines. Many attendees carried signs promoting false or unproven conspiracy theories.
Organizers dubbed the event the Freedom Mega Rally, and Saturday was actually the first of two days of planned speakers and marches.
Some attendees travelled from as far away as Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba, and several pickup trucks decked out with Canadian flags and political stickers circled the VAG throughout the five-hour-long event.
Some said they were there because they feel provincial and federal governments have overstepped by implementing physical distancing measures, mask policies, and lockdowns in their efforts to protect people from the coronavirus.
"I think we should be protecting the vulnerable. Like elderly people," said a rally attendee who identified herself as Marilyn. "And everybody else should go about their business as normal."
Others shared the false impression there is no pandemic at all.
"It's about people coming together, of like minds, and questioning what many of us believe could be a narrative that's feeling a little bit scripted," said a man named John.
Following an initial round of speeches, the group marched through several downtown streets, blocking traffic, before returning to the north side of the art gallery.
During the march, a group of protesters confronted a CTV News crew, shouting accusations of fake news and demanding to know why coverage was not provided to a number of disproven QAnon conspiracy theories.
"You sold your soul! How do you sleep at night?" one man yelled through a megaphone.
Distrust of mainstream media was a common theme, and according to UBC sociology professor David Tindall a lack of confidence in conventional information sources is often what drives people toward conspiracy theories.
"More and more people are getting information from alternative news sources and in some cases not very credible alternative news sources," Tindall told CTV News in a Zoom interview.
Some rally attendees travelled to the lower mainland on the 8:30 a.m. ferry from Nanaimo and BC Ferries reported a disturbance on that sailing.
West Vancouver police were called to meet the vessel when it docked at Horseshoe Bay because an estimated 30 to 50 anti-maskers were reportedly verbally abusive to other passengers who were wearing masks.
BC Ferries has a mandatory mask policy.