‘This is not the heart of Steinbach’: Mayor rails against out-of-town anti-mask rally organizers

An anti-mask rally in Steinbach that drew hundreds Saturday doesn’t represent the southeastern Manitoba city, its mayor said.

He thinks many of the attendees came from out of town.

“The organizers are not from Steinbach and this is not the heart of Steinbach… I think it was very insensitive to hold a rally such as this,” Mayor Earl Funk said.

“While people from outside our community were coming and protesting, people inside our community were raising funds and making sure that our health-care workers were feeling appreciated.”

The novel coronavirus is surging in Steinbach and the surrounding area.

Steinbach’s 21,000-person health district had 300 active COVID-19 cases as of Sunday — that would work out to about 1,428 cases per 100,000 people.

On Friday, the Manitoba Nurses Union raised the alarm about the city’s hospital capacity.

Organized by a group called Hugs Over Masks, the rally protested provincial public health orders meant to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus — last Thursday, the entire province went into level red, or critical, under Manitoba’s pandemic rating system.

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The latest order caps gathering sizes to just five people, while non-essential businesses must shutter. On Sunday, Manitoba saw a record 494 COVID-19 cases — the highest in a single day.

On Sunday, the province’s justice minister, Cliff Cullen, condemned the protest — and the fact enforcement officials faced vitriol from protesters as they moved in to issue tickets for breaking public health orders.

“The actions on display in Steinbach yesterday were incredibly unfortunate, dangerous and wrong,” a statement from Cullen reads in part.

“The willingness of some to disregard openly our public health officials is unacceptable. My message to those individuals is clear: If you are going to break COVID restrictions, you will be ticketed.”

A provincial spokesperson confirmed fines were doled out for contravening public health orders, but couldn’t yet provide the number of tickets given.

Kelvin Goertzen — Steinbach’s MLA and the province’s education minister — also railed against the rally in a statement.

“I heard from many health-care workers and constituents who were disheartened by the rally that was planned in Steinbach by people from outside the community,” the statement reads in part.

“I personally, and all city residents, are hurting deeply from the loss of friends and community residents due to COVID and the full focus has to be on supporting the health of residents, not on rallies against health orders.”

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