Graphic by Esra Rakab, Production Coordinator

Hugs Over Masks anti-mask group continue to plan rallies against mandatory face-covering bylaws

In July, masks became mandatory in all public spaces for everyone in Hamilton, Ontario. The government’s goal has been to implement various regulations to slow the spread of COVID-19 while safely reopening businesses. People who refuse to adhere to the bylaw could be fined up to $500. Today, masks are still required as the pandemic continues.

Mandatory face-covering rules were not happily accepted by everyone. Councillor of Ward 14 Terry Whitehead argued that there are studies showing masks are not that effective. Whitehead also argued that public health experts’ recommendations are not always right.

Ward 11 Councillor Brenda Johnson said she received letters from those against the bylaw, stating that they would not vote for her in 2022 should she support the bylaw.

“In response, I’ve said I hope they’re healthy enough in 2022 to cast that vote,” Johnson said.

“In response, I’ve said I hope they’re healthy enough in 2022 to cast that vote,” Johnson said.

Anti-masks activists also grouped together to protest against the regulations, arguing that they should have the right to not wear a mask.

One anti-mask group, known as Hugs Over Masks, shared details of their rallies on social media. Most recently, news of upcoming rallies has been shared to popular pages visited by McMaster University students, sparking anger and fear amongst students.

One of the rally posts stated that the group planned to target an intersection frequented by McMaster students. The intersection between Main Street West and Emerson Street is right across from the university and is also a popular bus stop.

Not long after, a second post surfaced with a rally from Hugs Over Masks planned for Nov. 8 at Hamilton City Hall.

Although the main concerns of protesters have been mandatory masks, there has also been a mix of concerns over correlations to mandatory vaccinations.

In July, CBC News reported that Hugs Over Masks directly partnered with Vaccine Choice Canada, one of Canada’s anti-vaccination organizations.

There have been many similarities in both groups’ messages, including the idea of freedom and personal choice. For anti-maskers, they argue that they should have the freedom to choose whether they want to wear a mask. Anti-vaxxers argue that they have the right to choose whether or not their children receive vaccinations.

Writing for CNN News, Edith Bracho-Sanchez of Columbia University Irving Medical Centre points out the similarities between the two groups and how their actions are neglecting the health of others in the community.

“Both have taken hold against the backdrop of a cultural moment that emphasizes the individual above the community, self-interest above the common good. It is no coincidence then, that pleas to wear a mask to show respect and protect others or to vaccinate to create what’s commonly known as herd immunity, have seemed to fall on deaf ears [sic],” Brancho-Sanchez wrote.

“Both have taken hold against the backdrop of a cultural moment that emphasizes the individual above the community, self-interest above the common good”

Brancho-Sanchez also added that both movements misrepresent science and attack health experts, discrediting experts of the knowledge that they share.

During the council meeting in which the bylaw was passed in Hamilton, Mayor Fred Eisenberger reminded the council that the community should follow the guidance of public health services.

“This is not a constitutional issue. This is absolutely a public health issue,” Eisenberger said.

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