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Aylmer declares state of emergency ahead of planned anti-lockdown 'freedom march'

The mayor of Aylmer, Ont., has declared a state of emergency ahead of a so-called "freedom march" planned for Saturday to protest COVID-19 restrictions. 

The march planned for Saturday is aimed at protesting COVID-19 restrictions

Organizer Kimberly Neudorf speaks to anti-masking protesters at a 'freedom rally' in Aylmer, Ont., on Oct. 24. (Supplied by Kimberly Neudorf)

The mayor of Aylmer, Ont., has declared a state of emergency ahead of a so-called "freedom march" planned for Saturday to protest COVID-19 restrictions. 

Mayor Mary French signed the order Monday afternoon citing the "potential for civil unrest and service disruptions as a result of protests and demonstrations in relation to directions, recommendations and orders of the province and Southwestern Public Health for COVID-19."

In a tweet, the town's police force said the state of emergency declaration is in response to a planned "anti-masking freedom march" planned for Saturday, noting "the potential for civil unrest and service disruptions has prompted this response."

Aylmer, a town of about 7,500 people located 40 kilometres southeast of London, Ont., was the scene of what organizers described as a "freedom march" on Oct. 24 to protest COVID-19 restrictions.

The town's mayor told CBC following the rally that several hundred people had gathered at the unplanned event, many without masks, at the town's bandshell. 

Protesters marched through the streets of Aylmer at an anti-mask 'freedom rally' on Oct. 24. (Supplied by Kimberly Neudorf)

"From what I'm hearing, our residents are very upset. We're trying to follow the rules and our business owners are suffering. I've heard people say they're not going to shop in Aylmer because of this," French told the CBC's Afternoon Drive. 

An apparently impromptu anti-lockdown rally in Alymer, Ont. drew up to 300 supporters on Saturday, Oct. 24, 2020. Aylmer Mayor Mary French joined Afternoon Drive to talk about the so-called Freedom Rally and how the small municipality is responding. 6:03

The town of Aylmer has one-quarter of all confirmed positive COVID-19 cases in a jurisdiction that takes in the cities of St. Thomas and Woodstock. Southwestern Public Health says 89 cases, out of a total of 337, have been counted in the town since the pandemic began. 

Plans to hold a second event protesting COVID-19 restrictions have been circulating on social media. 

A post on Instagram promoting Saturday's gathering says it will be a "peaceful" and "lawful" event that is "family friendly."

"We're focused on freedom, medical freedom, and getting back to normal," said an Instagram post.

In a notice on the town website announcing the state of emergency, French said the declaration helps protect staff and volunteers "from litigious situations that may arise as a result of the emergency." 

Her statement also says it may allow the municipality to access funds to deal with any emergency and "conveys the serious of the circumstance to not only the residents of the Municipality, but also creates awareness to the levels of Government and Officials that are so willing to assist."

In April, a church in Aylmer held a Sunday drive-in service in a parking lot in defiance of Ontario's emergency act. Police were on hand to observe but no fines were issued as parishioners stayed in their vehicles and listened to the service over their radios.

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