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Open letter calls on Vancouver police to take action against anti-mask protesters

The letter references Vancouver anti-mask protests held in December last year and last weekend
Anti-mask protest
The anti-mask protest at the Vancouver Art Gallery on Saturday, Feb. 20, 2021.

Before the BC Grand Freedom Rally was held in Vancouver last weekend, a group called Unmask the Right published an open letter to the Vancouver Police Department expressing concern over what they perceive as a lack of action taken against other anti-mask protests.

On Unmask the Right's website, member groups that backed Freedom Rally World, the organization behind the weekend’s protest, are mentioned. Unmask the Right says these member groups, although ostensibly concerned with restrictions brought on by the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, often align with conspiracism, anti-semitism, QAnon, and hard-right politics converging on fascism. The open letter was written on the grounds of combating fascism and in the interest of maintaining public safety and health.

Unmask the Right’s open letter to the VPD

The letter explains this is not the first time Unmask the Right has made an effort to bring awareness to the ideological leanings of these groups. The organization wrote that a previous letter written in opposition of the BC Freedom Mega Rally planned for Oct. 16-17 received over one hundred signatures by organizations and individuals.

The letter goes on to acknowledge that the fundamental right to public assembly, free speech and political protest cannot be negated by public health orders, with one caveat. 

“It is reasonable to insist that any such events be held in a socially responsible manner; such as all participants wearing masks and maintaining physical distancing,” the letter reads. “It is also reasonable to expect that these groups and individuals should not receive a free pass to violate public health orders while the rest of society makes considerable sacrifices to protect lives and livelihoods.”

Notable names in support of the letter

The letter says that the VPD could be “overwhelmed by the complexity of balancing these requirements” but highlights concern over the “lack of response to these activities to-date.” A comparison was drawn to actions taken on other anti-mask protests compared with other jurisdictions across B.C. although no examples were provided.

Like the letter written ahead of the rally last October, this most recent letter is signed by numerous groups and organizations. Among the names listed are:

  • Bill Bargeman - Past President of the Vancouver Secondary School Teachers Association
  • John Irwin - Commissioner Vancouver Park Board
  • Vancouver and District Labour Council

‘Mass arrests are not possible or desirable'

Tania Visintin with the VPD responded to the letter in a recent email to Vancouver Is Awesome writing that as the VPD police hundreds of events, protests, and demonstrations every year, public safety always the priority.

“Vancouver Police officers exercise their discretion in the enforcement of public health orders. They must weigh a citizen’s right to peacefully protest with the current potential harm of gatherings,” Visintin said. 

Mass arrests are not possible or desirable. Ticketing and arrests could escalate an already passionate situation, and when there are larger groups of people, the risk of injury to both protesters and police officers rises.”

Visintin also noted that this position does not automatically guarantee anyone special privileges at a protest. 

“The bottom line is that if people are contravening the public health order, they could be issued a ticket,” Visintin said.