Megaphone-equipped, Silent Night it was not
Residents in a Pelham subdivision would have preferred festive carolers outside their doors on a chilly Tuesday night a few days before Christmas.
Instead, they were treated to a throng of 15 protesters, hurling cries of “shame” and “hands off our kids” toward the home of Dr. Mustafa Hirji, Niagara’s Acting Medical Officer of Health. Some of his neighbours, drawn outside by the commotion, had their own choice words for the noisy assembly, telling the group that the likelihood of Hirji actually being at home was remote. This didn’t dampen the protesters’ enthusiasm to draw attention to what they perceive as overreach by Hirji in his Covid-19 countermeasures.
In particular, the group said it is opposed to the inoculation of children with mRNA vaccines, which they view as inadequately tested and potentially lethal. (Millions of children have received pediatric doses of mRNA vaccines without incident.) They also are opposed to lockdowns and other social restrictions, and their perceived loss of freedoms.
Some of the protesters told the Voice that they had lost their jobs for their own refusal to be inoculated.
It took about 20 minutes for Niagara Regional Police Service cruisers to arrive on scene.
Officers met with the protesters, who were assembled on the roadway, not on Hirji’s property. They told police they had a lawful right to assemble. The officers agreed, but suggested that the group could reasonably be guilty of noise violations. In addition to their shouting, the protesters had a megaphone with a siren, and a metal bell which was frequently rung.
About half an hour after the police arrived, the crowd started to disperse, but several members suggested that they would be back throughout the week to continue to vent their displeasure.
A commentary by Hirji about how Niagara may best respond to the latest Omicron threat appears in this week’s edition. Through a spokesperson late Tuesday night, Hirji declined to comment about the protest.
Also on Tuesday night, Niagara Regional Council Chair Jim Bradley issued a media statement in which he condemned the protesters.
“I am both frustrated and saddened that yet again we are witnessing the harassment of Dr. Hirji by a small group of people,” said Bradley. “I want to be exceptionally clear: there is no room for the actions that occurred this evening, and I know I stand with the vast majority of Niagara residents when I say that demonstrations at an individual’s private residence are completely unacceptable and reprehensible.”
Asserting that Hirji had saved Niagara lives during the pandemic, Bradley said that while he believes in freedom of expression, “I also believe that we have to hold individuals accountable when their actions are over the line. Actions that could be perceived as a threat to the health and safety of a member of our community will not be tolerated. I know that the Niagara Regional Police are well aware of this situation and will take appropriate action if necessary.”
Updated with comment from Niagara Regional Council Chair Jim Bradley (originally incorrectly identified as Niagara Region CAO).