20 charges laid after hundreds take part in Hamilton anti-lockdown, anti-mask protests

Hamilton police and bylaw officers have laid 20 charges following a pair of lockdown protests over the weekend that included hundreds of people.

'Folks are being held accountable for organizing these kinds of events,' says mayor

Police say 20 charges have been laid following a pair of protests held in Hamilton over the weekend. (Dan Taekema/CBC)

Hamilton police and bylaw officers have laid 20 charges following a pair of lockdown protests over the weekend that included hundreds of people.

The first protest happened on Saturday near Kenilworth Avenue North and Barton Street East, police say.

"Approximately 300 people in attendance. Police will be in the area for public safety and enforcement. #StayHome," the service tweeted about the event in the Crown Point East neighbourhood just before 3 p.m. that day.

On Monday, the service updated the count, saying that more than 400 people had participated.

A Hugs Over Masks protest made up of more than 45 people happened outside city hall the following day, police said.

"I know there's a lot of challenge with COVID-fatigue," said Dr. Elizabeth Richardson, Hamilton's Medical Officer of Health, during an update Monday afternoon, referencing the protests.

"[But] as we look at what's going on, I think I cannot underscore enough just how serious the situation we are in."

Public health reported 214 new infections and two more deaths on Monday. On Friday, the city saw its highest case count ever at 247 cases.

There have been 15,517 throughout the pandemic and 346 people who had COVID-19 have died.

Mayor says organizers are 'being held accountable'

Mayor Fred Eisenberger, who chairs the city's police services board, addressed the protests during a board of health meeting Monday, saying officers were there to monitor and "contain them as much as they could."

Police document and track participants and work to identify organizers and charged them after, said the mayor.

"Folks are being held accountable for organizing these kinds of events," he said.

"Clearly you can't charge 300 people who are at an event, so they're managing it in the best way possible."

Hamilton, along with the rest of Ontario, remains under a stay-at-home order

The province said in a news release on Friday that it has prohibited "all outdoor social gatherings and organized public events." Exceptions are being made for members of the same household or one other person from outside that household who lives alone or a caregiver for any member of the household.

"Both events were protesting the current COVID-19 restrictions and the majority of individuals were not wearing a mask or face covering," said police, adding organizers for both protests were present.

The service also issued a reminder that "participation in such events could result in charges being laid pursuant to the Emergency Management and Civil Protection Act."

The media release from police did not include the names of any people charged.

Hamilton police are continuing to investigate and are asking anyone with information to contact them or Crime Stoppers.

Criminal charge laid in Niagara

Investigators in Niagara have  announced a criminal charge following a large protest in Niagara Falls on Saturday.

A 43-year-old woman from St. Catharines has been charged with a common nuisance endangering the lives or safety of the public, contrary to the Criminal Code of Canada, according to police.

Further charges, in addition to the ones laid by bylaw officers during the event, are pending, said the service.

Police said that during the protest officers worked to "manage the situation to not cause it to escalate and to preserve the peace," adding that in order to maintain public safety discretion is sometimes needed, rather than immediate enforcement.

"With rising case counts throughout Ontario and in Niagara, the NRPS is urging the public to comply with restrictions to limit the continued community transmission of the COVID-19 virus," police said.