Fort St. John Mayor Lori Ackerman says protesters are misdirecting their anger with COVID-19 mandates and restrictions at the city.
Reading a letter she penned to provincial officials at Monday's council meeting, Ackerman said local governments are obligated to comply with COVID-19 laws set by the province.
Ackerman said some residents are “frustrated” and “confused,” and called on the province to inform the public that health orders originate from the province, not the municipality.
The letter was a ratification of a city council survey, in response to recent disruptions at city facilities and targeting of city officials. Ackerman said the city has been advocating about the impacts of COVID-19 on the community, but that it cannot make changes to provincial orders.
“These residents believe that municipalities have the ability to cancel the mandates at our facilities that are in place in response to the provincial COVID-19 mandates,” Ackerman said.
“As these are provincial health orders, this anger against local government is misdirected. MLAs are required to advance their concerns on their behalf by directly contacting the provincial government, and communicate with their constituents.”
A crowd of residents gathered at Fort St. John city hall Monday afternoon, voicing support for the Freedom Convoy movement and protesting COVID-19 mandates and restrictions.
Of particular concern is the city's proof of vaccination requirements to access city recreational facilities.
After the singing of O' Canada, protester David Blaney addressed the crowd, reading a poem on what he feels it means to be Canadian. Blaney says vaccination mandates don't justify shutting down the country and putting businesses and people's livelihoods at stake.
"They do not put weight on your rights, they don't consider them rights, they're only privileges, and we have to change that. We have to demonstrate to them that we have rights," said Blaney.
"And if you are waiting for the government to give you back your rights, you're wrong. Anything they give back to you is only a privilege. If you want rights, you have to take them."
Ackerman said the local protests have been peaceful.
“We’re not saying that they can’t protest, absolutely that is part of democracy that we all appreciate. We have been fortunate so far that they have been peaceful protests here."
Ackerman said any letter the city receives about COVID-19 mandates and restrictions need to be accepted and taken to the “appropriate authorities.”
“I believe that a lot of people are fully vaccinated. Yes, we don’t know what’s in them; we don’t know what’s in bologna and hot dogs but we eat those too,” Ackerman said. “But the anger with local government is misplaced.”
Northern Health reports 17,480 residents in Fort St. John are fully vaccinated. Another 6,298 people have received a third booster dose.
There were 276 cases of COVID-19 in Northeast B.C. between Jan. 30 to Feb. 5, including 146 cases reported in the North Peace.
The letter was sent to Municipal Affairs Minister Josie Osborne, as well as Premier John Horgan and BC Liberal Opposition Leader Kevin Falcon, among others.
Read the letter in full below:
— with files from Tom Summer