Barrie Mayor Jeff Lehman responds to social media questions over closure of Meridian Place

Why did it take so long? Why was Black Lives Matter allowed to protest?

Social media lit up Thursday after the City of Barrie announced it was closing and fencing off Meridian Place in advance of another planned ‘Freedom Rally’ this weekend.

Barrie’s mayor issues order to close Meridian Place in response to regular weekend protests

Some wondered why it took so long, others felt the Charter of Rights guarantees them the right to protest, and there were references to last year’s Black Lives Matter demonstration.

We asked the mayor to respond.

Why did it take so long?

“I think we had hoped that the enforcement efforts that were going on, and the communications that were going on would dissuade people from gathering; that they would understand, with everybody from the prime minister, the premier and city council – with a joint open letter signed by every one of us – saying please stay home. And unfortunately, the protests grew. Instead of people thinking twice, the opposite happened. And then the decision by the organizers to invite these so-called guest speakers. And I think when that happened, we said, well, we are going to have to look at this differently, because people are being invited to go out to a much larger sort of event. And that is not okay. And now we’re taking a much stronger step with regards to the square.”

The Charter of Rights and Freedoms guarantees the right to protest

“I would encourage anybody who thinks that to read the charter. Charter rights do not supersede the state of emergency. It is a given right to be able to protest, it is not a given right to break an emergency order, which was passed by the Government of Ontario, and is there to protect people’s lives. People can protest in any number of ways, but they cannot gather. And that is the issue. This is not really about the right to protest. This is about gathering, and gatherings are dangerous. And that’s why they’re against the law right now. That is the fact of a pandemic. I know there’s lots of people trying to maybe play lawyer and reinterpret the charter and the duly passed laws that have come. We don’t have to like the lockdown law, but we have to respect it. And it is absolutely valid, as are my emergency orders here in Barrie.”

Why was the Black Lives Matter demonstration last year allow to proceed?

“A couple of things. Number one, that the COVID situation was quite different, quite a bit less severe and less dangerous – pre-variance in the midst of the summer when caseloads were almost nothing. Those organizers (Black Lives Matter), and this is a very important point, those organizers made an attempt to keep everyone safe. They distributed masks, they had hand sanitizer. Not everybody distanced, I won’t claim that for a moment, and I wish they had, but the organizers made an attempt to protest safely. That is completely different with this protest. The whole point of it is to not be safe, and they’re putting people at risk by doing that. Thing is, this is protest number six or seven and I’m sorry it’s not even a protest. It’s a gathering. So, you know, if anybody feels that there were individuals here who haven’t had the opportunity to go out and do that, we’ve had six Saturdays. So, we do see this as quite different. And when you’re starting to give out hotdogs and have kids’ games and things, you’re organizing an event to gather, it’s hardly a protest.”

‘Freedom Rally’ organizers say they plan to protest again this weekend. It’s not clear where.