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Athabasca hosts first anti-lockdown rally

Fears of confrontation with outside groups largely unfounded

ATHABASCA – Not only will the organizer of the five Enough is Enough rallies that have taken place in Athabasca, Barrhead and Westlock this February be holding more rallies in even more communities this coming week, she says she is also trying to organize a door-knocking campaign to bring her truth about the COVID-19 virus and subsequent lockdown restrictions to the public. 

Benita Pedersen held her first rally in Athabasca Feb. 26, the day after her second in Westlock, and the day before her second in Barrhead. Held just as the sun went down, a crowd of well over 100 people turned out in the near –20 C weather to show their support, or just to hear what she and those she invited to speak had to say. Some wore masks while others did not, and physical-distancing guidelines were definitely not adhered to. 

And that was kind of the point. 

Athabasca-raised Pedersen is a DJ by trade, based in Westlock, who has not been able to work since the COVID-19 pandemic was declared in early 2020. While she told the crowd she actually enjoyed the first few weeks of being locked down and unable to work, the novelty soon wore off, and she started doing her own research into the pandemic and the restrictions and came to the conclusion that the government and the media were lying to the public about the seriousness of the virus. 

“Every individual in this province needs something at their door, they need information because they are not getting it. And if we're gonna go provincewide door-to-door we need all of you as volunteers,” Pedersen told the crowd. 

There was also a petition circulated, which she encouraged everyone to sign, and she also urged them to exchange contact information with each other, citing the Indian government's recent actions to take the Internet offline to quell discontent throughout the country. 

Previous to the Athabasca rally, the first held at night, Pedersen also encouraged the “freedom fighters” who were planning to attend to bring along tiki torches and other sources of light. Anti-racist groups took notice of that request and condemned the use of torches due to their established racist connotations; a charge Pedersen denies. Only two flaming torches made an appearance, while many others opted instead for candles, flashlights and the headlights of their vehicles. 

Pedersen doubled down on the criticism, and prompted the crowd to bring out their various light sources while they sang “This little light of mine” as the darkness fell over the valley. Flames are a symbol of energy, change and transformation, and one she has used since starting her DJ business, All Fired Up Event Services. 

“I pledged from day one with my business that that I would have energy for my shows and I would continually change and evolve and transform and I would constantly update my music and keep things interesting and I pledge that that is what the flames meant to me,” she said. 

The momentum of the anti-lockdown movement is growing as people see the numbers for themselves, Pedersen said, referring to the low death rate and the fact a vast majority of those deaths have occurred in the elderly population. The average age of those who have died as a result of the virus in Alberta is 82, which Pedersen noted is about the same age as her father when he died. 

“My dad died at 83, not far from here,” Pedersen said. “I'm at peace with that. My dad lived a full life and he lived in his way. And there is no way that this public health order would have stopped my dad from doing anything … How serious can this virus be when you look at the numbers? I've got numbers here; I've got numbers on a chart over there. Lots of people over 80 apparently die due to this virus. Some in their 70s. Some in their 60s. I had a woman here today she's 70 years old. I asked her, ‘Are you scared of this virus?’ She said no. I asked her, ‘Do you support what I'm doing? I'm having these events that some people think are super spreaders.’ And she said yes, I support you.” 

Vehicles lined the parking lot at River Front Park, including RCMP vehicles on each end of the park, and being adjacent to Highway 55, some truckers let their horns be heard as they travelled past. 

Athabasca RCMP Staff Sgt. Paul Gilligan said the next day the rally was “uneventful,” but eight RCMP members were on the scene to keep a watchful eye. 

“It was pretty, pretty tame compared to what some of the stuff that I was hearing out there. You have to plan for the worst and hope for the best because we don't know what's going to happen,” he said. “It was unremarkable, uneventful, and we’re glad it ended with no disruption for the public.” 

He did however confirm Pedersen was once again fined for violating public health orders after the event was complete, her fourth $1,200 fine in four rallies. (She received her fifth in Barrhead the next day.) 

RCMP weren’t the only ones concerned with who may show up and what may happen. 

A small counter-protest was organized the same day, but the group of five kept their distance a block away from the river front rally, so their intentions were not misconstrued, as they were not seeking a confrontation, or to be labelled as Antifa by rally-goers, said Athabasca United Church minister Monica Rosborough, who also noted they were protesting racism and conspiracy theories, not Pedersen’s right to speak. 

“We live so close to Amber Valley that anything that even remotely triggers memories of Ku Klux Klan marchers with their torches should never, ever occur in our town,” Rosborough said. 

Amber Valley was the location, just east of Athabasca, where many Black Americans settled in the early 1900s, as they endeavoured to head north to Canada to escape racist Jim Crow laws in the American South. 

"And the longer we have these messages of conspiracy and fear, the longer we will be locked down,” Rosborough added. “Masks save lives, vaccinations save lives, scientists save lives and conspiracy theories are so unrealistic, and they just build up the fear. Protesting against masks actually causes the very thing that they're protesting against.” 

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About the Author: Chris Zwick

Athabasca Advocate editor
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