Students and faculty at Waterloo’s Wilfrid Laurier University held a protest this past weekend against the school’s mask mandate. 

The southwestern Ontario university continues to require that students wear masks in instructional spaces, even though masks are not required almost anywhere else in the province other than medical facilities.

The protest was organized by fourth year philosophy student Kamil Bachouchi and Students Against Mandate. Bachouchi has been leading what he calls “peaceful revolution” against the mandate, where he uses random items as face coverings. 

Bachouchi told True North he wants to see his university “mandate our rights or mandate our freedom instead of mandating masks”, saying that mask mandates are disrespectful and show a disregard to the personal autonomy of students.

The rally was held at Waterloo Town Square and featured speeches from Laurier Associate Professor David Haskell, Haldimand-Norfolk county acting medical officer Dr. Matt Strauss and first year student Christian Poce. Bachouchi served as master of ceremonies.

Poce spoke about the struggles he encountered while trying to obtain a medical exemption from Laurier’s mandate amid being unable to mask due to a recent nose surgery. He said the ordeal took a month and resulted in him missing class time. 

He also recalled an instant where a professor berated and embarrassed a student in front of the class for not wearing their mask properly. “We are young and we are healthy, and we should be free to do as we please,” Poce said.

In his speech, Professor Haskell said students took the courageous action of thinking for themselves and standing for their convictions by attending the anti-mandate protest.    

“These universities rob their students of their freedom of conscience and their right to bodily autonomy.” For Haskell, the rally was not just about criticizing Laurier’s policy, but “an opportunity to actually ask a few questions, specifically questions about what kind of society do we want to live in.” 

Dr. Strauss also praised students for attending the protest, saying “what you’re doing today really matters.” 

The prominent doctor took a jab at Laurier’s administration in his speech, accusing them of “behaving like religious fanatics” for requiring that young people wear masks. “If you are forcing people to cover their face, based not on science, at this point it’s religion,” said Strauss.

Strauss added that “now is the time (undergraduate students) are supposed to be making life connections that will last forever. They’re supposed to meet their best friends, they’re supposed to meet their romantic partners, but can’t do that when you’re wearing a diaper on your face.”

In closing off the event, Bachouchi told the crowd, “enough is enough. I haven’t been complying. I encourage all of you guys to speak your minds and stand up for your rights.”

The Laurier students and faculty were joined by several supporters and allies – with Bachouchi saying some came as far as Owen Sound to attend the protest.

“It was incredible to get that much support and to be told that I inspire people, that I give people hope,” Bachouchi told True North, adding that “it was great to connect with that many new and familiar faces.”

He hopes that through his protest, Laurier will see that he isn’t alone in opposing their mandatory masking policy. “It’s not just one student doing this.”

Laurier is not the first Canadian university to face backlash from students over Covid-19 mandates. Last fall, hundreds attended a protest at the University of Western Ontario after the school announced it would be mandating masks and boosters.

Western ended up delaying the imposition of its booster mandate before quietly abandoning it. Western’s mask mandate does however remain in place.

True North reached out to Wilfrid Laurier University for comment, but they did not respond in time for publication.