By: Jessica Swietoniowski

I joined hundreds of anti-lockdown protesters in Toronto on Saturday April 17th. These protests have been happening almost every week since the beginning of the pandemic, but this week’s protest was particularly significant in light of Ontario Premier Ford’s new lockdown restrictions.

On Friday, Ford announced a prolonged stay-at-home order and gave police “special authority” to stop people who are walking on the streets or driving their cars, and to ID them and ask why they are out of their homes. 

Thankfully, many police forces pushed back and publicly stated that they will not stop people without cause, despite the new powers granted to them. 

During the protest on Saturday, there was a heavy police presence but the officers did not issue fines, arrest anybody or randomly stop people to ID them. 

Although in previous weeks, there have been arrests at these anti-lockdown protests, there was a different mentality amongst officers on Saturday as it appeared they did not seem to want to enforce the new lockdown restrictions. 

The protesters marched through downtown Toronto and ended at a popular downtown hotspot, Trinity Bellwoods park. 

Protesters held signs that read, “Freedom is Essential” and “Rise up now or bow down later.”

Despite the mainstream media’s coverage of these protests, the people attending weren’t all anti-vaxxers and COVID-deniers. Many who attended on Saturday were Candians of different races and backgrounds – business owners, churchgoers and concerned residents who are fed up with the province’s strict lockdowns. 

The group of about 500 stopped in front of the Bell Media building, the home of CTV News and other mainstream media outlets, and started chanting “Tell the truth.” 

Not only were these protesters tired of the restrictions, many showed concern about the mental toll these lockdowns have caused.

“I battle mental health every single day, and I’ve been watching everyone suffer something I dreamed they never would, isolation,” a young male speaker said.

While the protesters were passionate and in good spirit, not everybody in Toronto was supportive of them.

As the march continued in the Queen St. West area, a few local residents started throwing bottles of water, tomatoes and onions from their windows – hitting some protesters.

One man, wearing a black mask, came out from his front door with a metal bat, swinging at the protesters. Police officers quickly interfered and blocked the man’s door.

The march persisted and ended in Trinity Bellwoods park – where the cherry blossom trees have once again been fenced off.  

These protests will continue, every Saturday at Queens Park, as long as lockdowns and restrictions are enforced. 

While it was a positive sign that nobody was arrested this week for simply exercising their rights, we don’t know is how the police will respond going forward — particularly with the new powers granted to them by the Ford government.