The debate over face coverings and other COVID-19 safety measures has taken an ugly turn in the Elgin County community of Aylmer, Ont.
Mayor Mary French tells CTV News she’s been receiving threats anonymously, and from people she doesn’t know, after the town declared a state of emergency on Monday.
“I’ve taken a lot of abuse,” said French.
The emergency declaration came ahead of a so-called Freedom March planned for this Saturday in the town by those opposing COVID-19 measures.
French said she and her family are worried for their safety.
“Just threats like ‘Don’t step outside the front door of your house, you might not like what you see. We’re watching you at town hall, if we see you leaving there.’ Those types of things. I won’t get into it too deeply but it’s quite concerning to me and my family.”
French said she has reported the threats to police.
This weekend’s planned demonstration follows one on Oct. 24 in which hundreds of people not wearing masks gathered together. Aylmer resident Norm Stansell said he agrees with the emergency declaration.
“I think it was the smartest thing they ever did and I hope they get their ticket books out. Start locking people up when they’re idiots.”
Church of God Pastor Henry Hildebrandt, a prominent figure in the anti-mask campaign, turned down a request for an interview with CTV News, and instead referred to a video message he posted to YouTube on Tuesday.
In it he says, “To me it is very concerning if our mayor is more concerned about the reputation of this town, more concerned about that it goes peaceful, than concerned about upholding our God-given constitutional freedom.”
Meantime, French admitted she doesn’t know what to expect on Saturday, but worries the event could attract as many as 1,000 people, including both anti-mask demonstrators and counter-protestors.
She said the emergency declaration allows the town to call on the OPP for help.
“People are accusing me that I’m not allowing them to have freedom of speech. That’s not my place. I’m not a lawmaker. I’m a mayor. And I just care about their safety as well as everyone else’s safety, whoever that might be that is choosing to rally.”
When asked about the events in Aylmer, Elgin-Middlesex-London MPP Jeff Yurek issued a statement, saying in part:
“It is important to all who call this region home that no one put themselves or others at risk, or cause further disruption to businesses and the community during this already difficult time.”