Hamilton

Organizer of Hugs Over Masks event in Hamilton has been charged, police say

Police say the organizer of a Hugs Over Masks event in Hamilton has been charged and could face a fine of at least $10,000.

Police say more than 100 people attended the event last weekend

A Hamilton police officer wearing a mask writes in his notebook outside crime scene on Nov. 10, 2020. Police say a man who organized a Hugs Over Masks protest in Hamilton has been charged. (Dan Taekema/CBC)

Police say the organizer of a Hugs Over Masks event in Hamilton has been charged and could face a fine of at least $10,000.

The event protesting COVID-19 restrictions happened in front of Hamilton City Hall last weekend and saw more than 100 participants, according to investigators.

Police say they identified the 26-year-old who organized it and told him that planning the gathering would be an offence under the Reopening Ontario Act and charges would apply.

Bylaw and police officers attended and the service says the number of people in attendance exceeded the limit allowed for outdoor gatherings.

Police say the organizer was also there during the event and has since been issued a provincial offences act summons for failing to comply with a section of the act. He's set to appear in court on Feb. 22, 2021.

Anyone convicted of the offence is liable for a minimum fine of $10,000, say police.

The organizer of the event was not identified in the police media release. A spokesperson for the service says the charge he faces was the result of a ticket and the man was not arrested, so his name won't be released.

His charge comes as Hamilton enters Ontario's red "control" zone and COVID-19 cases continue to rise, with updated modelling projecting the province could hit more than 6,000 cases per day by mid-December if it doesn't add more public health restrictions.

'Don't be silly,' says mayor

Mayor Fred Eisenberger said his message to anti-maskers is simple — "Don't be silly."

"You hear all kinds of conspiracy theories about whether or not we're controlling people's lives and taking away rights. None of that is happening," he said when asked about the charge during a media update Friday.

"The reality is it's irresponsible not to be wearing masks … especially at this point given that we're at a critical phase where the potential for the virus running out of control is near."

Hamilton police also shared a reminder for the public, saying those who participate in large events like the protest could face charges under the Reopening Ontario Act.

"Residents are encouraged to stay at home when ill, maintain a 2 metre distance (6 feet) from others, wear a mask when physical distancing is not possible, wash hands frequently with soap and water, and cover coughs or sneezes with your sleeve or a tissue to help stop the spread of COVID-19."

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