REGINA — A peaceful protest outside the steps of the Legislative Building in Regina on Thursday called on the provincial government to take action to slow the fourth wave of COVID-19 in the province.
A fully-masked group of protesters made up the rally, organized by a grassroots group of local residents. The event was meant to draw the attention of provincial authorities and demand action to curb what medical experts have identified as the fourth wave of COVID-19.
“It's really on behalf of the majority of the Saskatchewan people who are scared, frustrated, bewildered that our government, who we've elected to serve and protect us, is doing nothing as our cases surge to the highest levels ever, our hospitals fill up, and our health care workers burn out,” said organizer Donna Pasiechnik.
The rally came from an idea floating around on Twitter, said Pasiechnik, and came together in less than two days.
She said many people she talked to were also frustrated with the extended absence of provincial officials over the last few weeks, and the province’s slowdown of COVID-related services like testing and vaccine clinics.
“We’re really hoping that this will send a message to this government that this is not right,” said Pasiechnik. “We’re exasperated and hoping that any rally cry will push these guys into action.”
Saskatchewan currently has the highest rate of cases over the last seven days out of the entire country, data shows, with no intervening public health orders currently in place — which has been drawing criticism from medical experts and residents across the province.
Pasiechnik said many are concerned that case numbers are being presented as lower than they are, due to the decreased access to testing and contact tracing efforts.
Concerns for many are running high, said Pasiechnik, as hospitalizations and cases in younger individuals continue to be reported in the province’s daily numbers.
“I can tell you that many of my friends are just staying home because we’re terrified of what’s going on in our community,” said Pasiechnik. “It's really scary, and this is the worst crisis we have faced in our lifetimes.”
Several speakers took the podium at the event, including Canadian Labour Congress president Bea Bruske, Canadian Union of Public Employees vice-president Judy Henley, and Opposition leader Ryan Meili, joined by several NDP members of Parliament.
Pasiechnik also shared words from Saskatoon pediatrician Dr. Karen Leis, from a letter sent to Premier Scott Moe and Health Minister Paul Merriman.
Counter-protestors attempted to disrupt the event, forming their own gathering just metres behind the edge of the crowds gathered for the rally.
Carrying signs boasting anti-vaccine, anti-masking and anti-lockdown messages, the group made efforts to derail rally speakers by playing loud music and shouting at the group gathered.
More than a dozen police officers were present on site, creating an informal barricade between the two groups to keep both gatherings peaceful.
“This is what happens when you have a Premier who downplays the pandemic from day one,” said Meili, of the counter-protestors gathered. “[It] has given the space to anti-vaxxers and anti-maskers, at a time when we all need to be working together to fight COVID-19.”
Pasiechnik said she was pleased with the turnout of supporters at the event, and she hopes to see immediate acknowledgement from the provincial government about the calls to action.
Rally organizers are looking to see an indoor masking mandate brought in by officials, as well as mandatory vaccination requirements for health care workers and teachers and vaccine passports for use in businesses.
The rally also called on an increase in testing capacities, citing that several testing centres across the province have been closed early recently despite long line-ups still outside, and a return to more intensive contact tracing.
Pasiechnik encouraged residents unable to attend the rally to lend a hand to the push by contacting their local MPs and the premier by phone and email, to express their concerns.
“There's lots you can do to put pressure on this government to do their job, the job they are paid to do,” said Pasiechnik.