In light of other important political protests going on, it is frustrating to see the prospect of wearing a mask become a point of contention.
Wearing masks are essential in the fight against COVID-19. This did not, however, stop north of 700 protesters from voicing their displeasure on a Sunday afternoon in September, just outside the Vancouver Art Gallery.
While masks are not required in all public settings in B.C., there are a number of areas where they are mandatory such as when taking transit or visiting certain grocery stores. Those who attended the Vancouver anti-mask protests on Sept. 13 vehemently claimed that being forced to wear masks infringed on their rights and freedoms.
We live in tumultuous and unprecedented times where the mere existence of these rallies are met with raised eyebrows—and rightly so.
Given the current political landscape along the lines of the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement, anti-mask protests pale in comparison to the glaring issues we face today.
Police brutality—coupled with a disposition towards African-Americans south of the border—have been on the rise during the pandemic. It has arguably garnered more media attention than ever before in an already racially divided country.
As is the case around the world, Canada has also been very involved in BLM movements. Despite Canada’s ideals of cultural diversity being deeply rooted into the Canadian identity, racism towards marginalized groups remains a constant narrative. Contrary to the numbers the anti-mask protests brought in, the Vancouver Art Gallery attracted thousands in support of BLM on May 31. This was one of many local protests that would soon follow after the death of George Floyd in Minnesota earlier this year. Fortunately for Vancouver, several masks can be seen being worn in photos shared over social media resulting in a much safer protest for everyone.
When I first saw the local news reporting anti-mask protests in September held at the same venue, I could only shake my head; I was appalled this was happening near my hometown. While masks have been scientifically proven to be effective in a COVID-19 world, they are being vilified by anti-mask sympathizers.
It is an outright refusal of the measures that provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry and Minister of Health Adrian Dix have put in place to help save the lives of British Columbians. If people treat social distancing guidelines and masks with open resistance, expect to see the number of COVID-19 cases surge as we enter the second wave.
On another note, how could you not possibly view anti-mask protests as a complete insult to movements such as BLM? On the one hand, you have unreasonable entitlement for saying ‘no’ to masks; on the other, you have people protesting against racism and critiquing the real systemic issues of our society.
Anti-mask rallies undermine the very idea of protest for just causes. When you have your lead spokesperson speak out on masks hollering, “my body, my choice, my immune system”—as was the case in September—you are selfishly putting other peoples’ lives in danger. This is the same sentiment that has unfortunately caused many younger folks in my generation to go maskless in high contractable areas—even when advised not to do so. And while these same people may not have all attended these anti-mask protests, it is nonsensical to treat COVID-19 with such blind indifference to public health mandates.
I fully understand that there is a small percentage who simply cannot wear a mask due to underlying health conditions that interfere with their breathing. But make no mistake: this is not the primary reason why anti-mask protests exist. These protest attendees are perfectly well people opposed to masks on the basis of choice. It should, in fact, become all the more obvious to abide by social distancing guidelines and use of masks when you have the U.S. President Donald Trump testing positive for COVID-19 earlier this month.
When you compare what BLM is trying to accomplish in their rallies, the concept of being opposed to masks in the middle of a pandemic is nothing short of ridiculous. At the end of the day, not wearing masks—where it is deemed mandatory—jeopardizes the health of others.
Protesting against what may save you and countless lives is not the answer.
Breyden Chong is a student in the Faculty of Communication, Art and Technology (FCAT) at Simon Fraser University.