Protesters tell the Manitoba government they want the right to not wear masks

About two dozen people gathered at Manitoba's legislature on Sunday to put pressure on the government to move away from calling for widespread mask use.

Group rallied against masks to prevent COVID-19 in alliance with other anti-mask groups in Canada

Protesters at the March to Unmask rally carried signs that had anti-government and anti-media messages. (Tyson Koschik/CBC)

About two dozen people gathered at Manitoba's legislature on Sunday to put pressure on the government to move away from calling for widespread mask use.

"We need to have our health in our own hands. We need the freedom to choose if we wear a mask or not," said Patrick Allard, the organizer of the rally and of the Manitoba Together Facebook group, which espouses freedom of speech and freedom of choice messages.

The March to Unmask rally was held alongside others in other parts of Canada where people say they're concerned about policies based on fear.

Allard, who also organized another rally at the end of May over non-essential business closures and isolation measures, says sick people who are at risk should just stay home.

Patrick Allard is one of the organizers of the March to Unmask rally. Protesters are calling on the province to steer clear of mask requirement that other provinces have undertaken to prevent the spread of COVID-19. (Tyson Koschik/CBC)

Those who are healthy shouldn't be forced to wear masks, he said, in part because it makes it difficult to talk.

"People that perhaps have a hearing disability need to see our mouths move, need to see it in order to communicate. What we're doing is further disabling people that have a hearing issue. This is one of the many negatives to wearing a mask."

Widespread use of masks

Public health officials haven't mandated widespread use of masks, but it isn't off the table.

Two weeks ago, the province's chief public health officer said at a press conference it could be difficult to tell the difference between symptoms of the illness caused by the new coronavirus and those of influenza come flu season this fall and winter.

That challenge may prompt a change in messaging on the use of face masks in Manitoba, as more people start showing signs of both illnesses.

Mask use is "probably going to become more and more of an approach we have here," Roussin said during a news conference on July 9.

"But the big take-home message is that, for the most part, masks shouldn't be seen as a substitute for other precautions that we have."

Still, Roussin said the province has not ruled out eventually mandating the use of face masks under a public health order, as Ontario and Quebec have, though he doesn't foresee it happening right now.

"We've never excluded any approach that we thought was going to be fitting with our best interests, so it's certainly not excluded," Roussin said. "We need to learn to live with the virus."

Although Allard and fellow protesters claimed masks aren't effective in reducing the spread of COVID-19, a new World Health Organization study confirmed masks are effective both in health care and community settings.

WHO also said governments should encourage the general public to wear masks in specific situations and settings as part of a comprehensive approach to suppress COVID-19.

Even though there have been no public health orders or calls from public health officials for all Manitobans to wear masks, Allard says he and the other protesters didn't want to wait for it to happen.

"Should we wait and be retroactive or be proactive and ensure that it doesn't happen? Why wait?"

With files from Austin Grabish