VANCOUVER — The popular singer of O Canada at the Vancouver Canucks hockey games says he knew he might lose his job for standing up against what he describes as the "tyranny" of COVID-19 restrictions.
Mark Donnelly sang the anthem at an event called the Christmas Freedom Rally in Vancouver on Saturday, where hundreds of people protested restrictions imposed by B.C.'s provincial health officer.
Vancouver Canucks owner Francesco Aquilini tweeted late Friday that Donnelly was now the former Canucks anthem singer, followed by the hashtag #wearamask.
Donnelly told the crowd, many of whom weren't wearing masks or social distancing, that he decided to sing because he questions the "draconian lockdown protocols."
"What was originally sold as 15-day hunkering down sprint for the common good has turned into a 10-month marathon from hell, where the finish line is constantly being moved further into the distance," he said.
He said he doesn't think health officials have done a cost-benefit analysis looking at the harms of the restrictions compared with preventing the spread of COVID-19.
"As someone known for singing our great national anthem, I'm standing up against what I feel is tyranny, plain and simple," he said to applause and cheers from the crowd.
Donnelly said his firing is censorship by an institution that he's followed for 50 years and been publicly associated with since 2001.
"Sports figures, entertainers, politicians, et cetera, can stand for anything as long as it supports the narrative. You can support rioting, looting, destructions of livelihoods and reputation, but take a position against the narrative and you are worthy of exile or worse."
Donnelly said he hasn't had direct contact with Aquilini or the Canucks and if he is no longer with the team, a phone call would have been a more respectful way to find out his reasons for taking part in the rally.
He had hoped the ownership and management of the Canucks would have had the "courage to support the freedom to express science-based position that is for the greater good of the country," he said.
No one from the Canucks responded to a request for comment.
The protesters then took to the streets in a march.
Vancouver police spokeswoman Tania Visintin said police need to exercise discretion with large groups of protesters violating public health orders, saying public safety is the priority.
She said mass arrests or ticketing could escalate an already tense situation.
“This position does not automatically guarantee anyone special privileges at a protest. The bottom line is people who are contravening the public health order, they could be issued a ticket. Officers are using discretion with each situation that arises.”
B.C. health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry said last month that she has "no time for people who believe that wearing a mask somehow makes them ill or is a sign of lack of freedom."
Instead, she said wearing a mask is about respect for those who suffering through the pandemic together.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 5, 2020.
--with files from News 1130.
The Canadian Press