Sign-carrying anti-mask protestors chat with bystanders on Sunday. Photo: Yvette d’Entremont

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A dozen anti-mask protesters who gathered on the Halifax Waterfront Sunday afternoon were met by an equal number of mask-wearing counter protesters determined to push back on the messaging.

March to Unmask: Halifax was organized by Sandra Saunders and was part of a nationwide campaign against what the unmasking group is calling an “unjustified push” for mandatory masks. In addition to protesting masks, one brandished an anti-vaccine and anti-5G technology sign and another noted that ‘Bill Gates won’t save you.’

Shortly before the 3 p.m. event started, a group of mask-wearing counter protesters showed up on-site with signs of their own. As Saunders spoke to reporters, they began raising their own signs and shaking homemade noisemakers. 

Veda Wynters (centre) was one of a dozen mask wearers who showed up to counter Sunday’s “unmask Halifax” event. Photo: Yvette d’Entremont

Halifax resident Veda Wynters was one of those who showed up to counter the anti-mask group. Sporting a Wonder Woman mask, she said she felt compelled to show up.

“I decided to come here after reading all the comments on their (Unmask Halifax) Facebook page that has outdated numbers, incorrect information, conspiracy theories up the wazoo, and we just wanted to represent the saner side of Halifax,” Wynters said. 

“I’m immunocompromised. I have severe asthma, I have chronic issues, so if anyone shouldn’t need to wear a mask, I’m asthmatic. I shouldn’t need to wear a mask and yet I’m wearing a mask.”

One of the other women who joined her added that mask wearing was about compassion for other people and she too felt they needed to push back.

“It’s not really for your protection, it’s for other people and it just infuriates me that there are people that wouldn’t have that same compassion that all of these lovely people have,” she said, gesturing broadly to the people wearing masks around her.

Both groups were generally respectful and calm, with the exception of one man aligned with the anti-mask group. He angrily yelled at a CTV cameraman for not interviewing him and got into a heated yelling match with two mask-wearing teenagers. 

In an interview, Saunders said she became involved with organizing the March to Unmask Halifax event because her daughter is asthmatic and works in an industry that recently made them mandatory. She said she wanted to create awareness about what the group claims are the harms caused by masks. 

She added that people shouldn’t be listening to what mainstream media or the government has to say about wearing them during this pandemic.

“We should never, ever be mandated anything, especially a medical device that poses harm…Especially cloth masks. Cloth masks, when you have the moisture from your breath coming out, your C02 is actually your waste product,” Saunders said in an interview, pointing to this reporter’s cloth mask. 

“Seriously. So it’s kind of like eating your own poop, man, you know, because seriously the CO2 has virus and bacterial particles that your body is trying to expel and get rid of.”

This is not accurate, and contrary to the scientific consensus on masks.

‘Super majority of Canadians’ are onboard

The fact that so few people showed up for a protest against masks was no surprise to Howard Ramos. The former Dalhousie University sociology professor recently took up a new post as chair of sociology at Western University. 

He’s worked with the Association of Canadian Studies and their polling with national market research and analytics company Leger. Last week, Leger released a survey that showed 67% of Canadians believe wearing a mask in all indoor public spaces should be made mandatory. 

When asked if requiring people to wear a mask in public places is an infringement on their personal freedoms, 70% surveyed disagreed. 

“The super majority of Canadians believe in the public health practices that have been happening and recognize that we’ve sacrificed a little bit of our freedom in order to have more freedom,” Ramos said in an interview.

“Wearing a mask gives us the opportunity to be able to go shopping, to be able to make sure that our friends and relatives and neighbours aren’t getting sick.”

He said there will always be a minority who aren’t supportive, adding that those who are unsupportive often hold extreme alt-right views. 

“I think that we’re importing some of the narrative from the US, and within political views there’s always a chunk of the population who prides liberty and libertarian values over other values,” he noted.

“So to me as I hear about this kind of event it’s to recognize that yes there’s going to be this kind of group of people. It’s not new, it’s something that always exists within society, but it’s important for us to put it into context that this is a minority of people.”

Ramos said public health officials have done a “great job,” particularly in Atlantic Canada, with informing the public about why they’re implementing various measures in order to protect the health of the community at large.

“I think that what ends up happening with a lot of the anti-vaxxers and the alt-right and why they often pair together is because of this prizing of individuality,” he said.

“If you look at Atlantic Canada, we’ve done very well because we’ve embraced the messaging from public health, and it’s important to remember that this is going to be a long term marathon that we’re running and that it’s not over.”

Misinformation and downright mistruth being circulated about masks

On Friday, Nova Scotia’s chief medical officer of health announced that non-medical masks will become mandatory on public transportation as of July 24. 

In a media briefing he stated that evidence around wearing non-medical masks has evolved throughout the pandemic. That evidence now clearly shows that non-medical masks are an effective tool in helping to prevent the spread of COVID-19. He added that before a second wave or resurgence of the virus, we need to normalize mask wearing and make it “much more of a habit” for Nova Scotians. 

Strang also stressed that the vast majority of Nova Scotians are able to wear masks. He said although there are exemptions for medical reasons, there are very few valid medical reasons to not wear non-medical masks and they are primarily related to anxiety.

“The Canadian Thoracic Society clearly states that there is no evidence that wearing a non medical mask worsens a chronic lung condition such as asthma or chronic obstructive lung disease,” he said. 

“But I do recognize that for some people with chronic breathing conditions wearing a mask can create anxiety.”

He urged people to try and overcome that anxiety by getting used to wearing masks for short periods in a safe environment, such as in the confines of their own homes. He also noted that while people with cognitive or developmental disabilities may also be unable to wear masks, there are “very few medical reasons” not to.

“So if you think about it we have medical professionals that wear masks all day long every day. So what I’m asking is that Nova Scotians wear non-medical masks for much shorter periods of time,” he said.

Strang described masks are “part of a package” of personal protective measures that include frequent handwashing, good cough hygiene, physical distancing, cleaning common surfaces and objects, and staying home when you’re feeling unwell. 

He also encouraged Nova Scotians to seriously think about the role masks play in helping us protect each other, adding that wearing masks in public spaces where physical distancing isn’t possible shows that you care about others and are taking a relatively simple step to keep them safe. 

“There’s a lot of misinformation and downright mistruth being circulated about masks. Wearing a non-medical mask is safe and effective,” he said. “Our response to COVID-19 has highlighted that in many ways we need to think more about putting others first ahead of ourselves.”

Strang also noted that face shields or other types of eye protection are not a replacement for masks as they don’t protect others. 

“I’ve seen too many circumstances where people are making choices or organizations are making choices thinking that a face shield, that eye protection, is a replacement for masks,” he said. “It’s not. Where we need to have masks on we need to wear masks. There’s no replacement for them.”

Last week, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in the US called on Americans to wear masks to prevent COVID-19 spread.

“CDC reviewed the latest science and affirms that cloth face coverings are a critical tool in the fight against COVID-19 that could reduce the spread of the disease, particularly when used universally within communities,” the CDC states in its press release. “There is increasing evidence that cloth face coverings help prevent people who have COVID-19 from spreading the virus to others.”

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Yvette d’Entremont is a bilingual (English/French) journalist and editor who enjoys covering health, science, research, and education.

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  1. People who are able to wear a mask and do not are infringing on the freedom of everyone else who is concerned about their own health and the health of those close to them. You anti-maskers, think about the young mother who can’t go to the grocery store in case she brings back the virus to her baby. The young mother who can’t even take the baby out because not enough people are wearing masks. Think about the immunocompromised who need protection from your “moist breath” as Trudeay so picturesquely put it. Or really anyone because now we know there is always a chance that even the healthiest-seeming amongst us could be one of the unfortunates who suffer the worst effects.
    Be kind. Be compassionate. If you can wear a mask, do so.

  2. Interesting too that the people who are demonstrating and would like to have a choice about wearing masks appear to be social distancing in the photo – and those wearing masks are not the required six feet apart. Even “Anti- Maskers” is a bit of a negative label in my opinion. Not all people who are not wearing a mask are “anti-maskers” But if I go out in public without wearing one – are people going to think that I am against a person wearing a mask – when I’m not.

    This is all just creating more hate and divide. That is what governments and people in power like to do. While we are fighting against each other about masks – a piece of fabric on our face – what is really happening in the world?

    1. They’re crafty, those “governments and people in power” who mandate things like masks, seat belts, helmets, traffic laws, food safety, building codes (not to mention providing public health care!) just to create hate and divide us, all the while pretending it’s for our health and safety.

      Of course governments sometimes use a “divide and conquer” strategy to achieve their aims (just look at the history of Northern Pulp), but let’s be clear about who’s creating hate and division here. It’s the people protesting and spreading misinformation about – what did you call it? – “a piece of fabric on our face.” A piece of fabric that could, especially when worn in enclosed spaces like buses, save lives.

      To paraphrase an old saying, your liberty to spew germs ends at my nose.

      Berta Gaulke

    2. A global pandemic is happening in the world, the spread of which can be mitigated by wearing a mask. Seems fairly straight forward. Not everything is a political battle but it seems people would like to make it that.

  3. Dr, Strang also said that spraying Glyphosate is safe. Don’t believe everything you hear.

  4. People wear scarves in the winter over their faces, it’s amusing to think that a cloth mask could impair your ability to draw air. We have cultivated a racist view of face coverings in Canada and these are the chickens coming home to roost. The endless diatribes against burkas and hijabs, the attack by the federal government on protestors wishing to protect themselves from tear gas have all played a part in this.

    1. I do not wear a scarf in the winter. That also causes me problems with my breathing.

      If you are able to wear a mask and wish to wear one, please do. I encourage you to wear it properly and to make sure that you wash your hands before and after touching your mask. I also ask that you dispose of a disposable mask in a garbage can and not on the ground.

      As I said above, I also ask that you show compassion to those who may not be wearing a mask. For some of us, the difficulty in wearing one is real.

      Thank you for reading and considering my perspective as I also read and consider yours.

      1. Hi Vel, my comment was directed at the points and notions of the folks in the article. As Dr. Strang is quoted in the article saying that anxiety may be a reason you are unable to wear a mask. As I see it, it is up to all of us who are able to wear one, to wear one. I’m sorry you have anxiety when you wear one, I know I would be concerned being out and about. Have you tried wearing one at home, in safety? In any case, stay safe and healthy!

  5. I would really like to know what the valid medical reasons for not wearing a mask might be. I’ve tried to find the information. I’ve had my municipal councilor try and find the information. My story is in an earlier article on this site (see “Masks are a unique kind of claustraphobia”). I’ve been doing my very best to avoid crowds, to maintain my social distance, and to wash my hands frequently. I’ve put a mask on twice now while out in public. Both times it was ripped off within less than two minutes so I could breath and it took quite a while for my heart to stop pounding and my head to stop spinning. While I acknowledge that part of this may be anxiety, which I’ve never suffered from before, I am not willing to take anit-anxiety medications just to ride a bus or to get a haircut. I’ve been following the suggestion to try wearing a mask at home, but that is not real-world for me. I use transit only rarely and do carry a mask with me because I’m not willing to get into a physical altercation with anyone over a piece of cloth. What am I asking is that people stop saying “anyone can wear a mask.” We are all individuals and we all experience things in our own unique way. Please show compassion to those of us who find it very difficult to hinder our breathing in this way. Most of us are doing everything else we possibly can to keep others as safe as possible. Not all people who are not wearing a mask are anit-maskers.

    1. I truly admire your attempts to accustom yourself to wearing a mask. Thank you for trying. And do experiment with what others have suggested – put it on for a few minutes at home, take it off before you start to panic. And a tip – the cheap disposable masks now available in the drugstores and elsewhere are easier to breathe through than many of the cloth ones.
      So far I only wear a mask indoors, have avoided crowded outdoor spaces. i find I start to feel short of breath if I have to talk while wearing a cloth mask so if I know I will have to converse, say at an appointment, I wear a disposable, and save the cloth mask for when the longest verbal exchange will only be while paying for a purchase.

      1. The two times I wore a mask, it was a disposable one. I can’t wear the homemade, heavier cloth ones, at all. I wish I could. I hate thinking of what it could cost to wear masks properly – meaning a new disposable mask after each wearing – for months and months. For now, I will continue to visit the grocery and/or drug store at non-busy times, to avoid crowds, to wash my hands frequently, to stay off transit, and to socially distance as often as possible. Thank you for your comments and your suggestions. Stay safe. 🙂