WESTLOCK - As far as Westlock’s mayor is concerned, the organizer of the two local Enough is Enough anti-COVID-19 measures rallies can continue shouting “freedom” into the wind as much as she wants, but the municipality will stay the course and continue following the advice, measures and regulations set out by the province and medical experts.
In advance of Thursday’s lightly attended Enough is Enough rally organized by local DJ Benita Pedersen in the Westlock Curling Club parking lot, mayor Ralph Leriger, speaking on behalf of council, said this past year has been filled with challenges for individuals, businesses and the entire community and collectively they need to continue to support the efforts of the province and stay the course. Pedersen’s first rally in Westlock held Feb. 11 drew around 65 people, while the second in Barrhead Feb. 18 drew close to 100 and Thursday’s in Westlock only saw around 25 attendees.
“Look I get that everyone is sick and tired of this, I am as well,” said Leriger, reading from a prepared statement. “Personally, if Ms. Pederson wishes to shout ‘freedom’ at the wind, that is her prerogative. The government authorities can and will react as they see fit and I will stay focused on the work at hand and the community will undoubtedly judge her behavior for themselves.
“‘I’m not afraid of the virus’ is neither a strategy, or is it a plan. Our council and administration are working hard to ensure the health and safety of our citizens and especially our staff who provide the essential services that we require to survive in this climate. There will be no local economy to worry about if the water doesn’t flow and the toilets don’t flush.
“As the mayor I believe the majority of our community supports this course of action thus far. I cannot afford to allow the actions of a few individuals distract me from the work that needs doing. Leadership and governing is always difficult and it is especially difficult right now. My focus is trying to ensure our community’s financial sustainability and that we support our local business community as we follow the guidelines put out by the province. We all need to help our business open and stay open.”
Pedersen, who following the Feb. 25 rally in Westlock received a third $1,200 ticket from the RCMP for contravening the provincial Public Health Act, said previously she was inspired to organize local protests after attending rallies in Edmonton and connecting with groups such as Freedom4Canada and We Are All Essential. At both Westlock rallies Pedersen told the crowd, “You can defy the rules, you can come to protests, you can organize a protest, you can take legal action. There’s many ways to do it. Get involved and do something.”
On Thursday, she asked those in attendance to contact their local elected representatives, especially by phone, and demand they join the Ontario-based ‘End the Lockdowns National Caucus’.
“I’m pretty sure I’ve got the cellphone number of my mayor,” she said.