Transcript: Bonus: Who are Ontario's anti-lockdown protesters? | Jun 05, 2020

All over the province,
get rid of this ridiculous
social distancing!
This is supposed to be
a free country.
Freedom, freedom, freedom!
No new normal!
No new normal!
Welcome, everyone to a bonus
episode of the #OnPoli podcast.
I'm Steve Paikin.
And I'm John Michael McGrath.
None of us was truly happy
when the Ontario government
extended the state
of emergency this week.
But some of us, some of us were
really unhappy, enraged even.
Some think this whole lockdown
in general is a load of hooey
and have been
voicing their displeasure
at Queen's Park for weeks.
We sent our producers Harrison
Lowman and Patricia Kozicka
down to check out
those anti-lockdown protests.
So let's get to it.

John Michael,
we've seen them out there
for about a month
and a half now,
these protestors
at Queen's Park.
You know all about
these guys, right?
Uh, yes, I believe I've
heard something about them.
These are the folks
who are calling for
the province-wide lockdown
to be lifted,
for businesses to be allowed
to re-open their doors.
The ones that Premier Ford
memorably called
"a bunch of yahoos."
Yeah, that was memorable,
all right.
Yeah, they are the ones.
Uh, in fact, someone even
made a real catchy song,
about that insult
from Premier Ford.
Here's a bit of it.
♪ A bunch of yahoos out in
the front of Queen's Park ♪
♪ The front of Queen's Park ♪
♪ A bunch of yahoos out in
the front of Queen's Park ♪
♪ The front of Queen's Park ♪
Those protestors have now been
coming to Queen's Park
for six straight weekends.
And they attracted
some attention
when they first appeared.
And just this week,
they gained the support
of sitting, independent MPP,
former conservative,
Randy Hillier,
who left the Legislature
to join the protestors.
And after the government
voted on Tuesday,
to extend
the state of emergency.
That's what this
state of emergency is about.
It's about
not having accountability
for the people of Ontario.
(Cheering and whistling)
And, MPP Hillier has some fans.
He does indeed.
They say he's for democracy
and for the people.
One of them even had a sign
saying, "Hillier for Premier."
However, over all, JMM,
there's been little effort
to get to know these
protestors' deeper motivations.
So, we sent two of our intrepid
producers, Patricia Kozicka,
and Harrison Lowman, down to
the pink palace to investigate.
And I wonder
if you two could say, "Hello."
And welcome
to the #OnPoli podcast.
Hi, Steve,
and John Michael McGrath.
Nice to be here.
Hi, guys. How's it going?
Now, Patricia, we don't call him
John Michael McGrath.
I know.
We just call him JMM.
I just love saying
his name fully.
It's so fun.
It just rolls off the tongue.
(John laughing)
Right on.
Okay, start by telling us,
and Patricia, you go first.
Why'd you guys want to go down
there and talk to these folks?
Well, I actually stumbled upon
these folks one Saturday.
I was out for a walk, happened
to be passing Queen's Park,
saw these guys gathered,
and I was actually
a little bit taken aback
by how many of them
there actually were.
And how many honks
of support they were getting
from cars passing by.
It made me realize that even if
it's just 200 people gathered
on the lawn of Queen's Park,
there are actually way more
people who have these views.
And I wanted
to better understand them.
And as I kind of took a step
back and stood for a while,
watching them from
the opposite side of the street,
the biggest thing that
jumped out at me right away
was how many anti-vax signs that
there were.
For instance,
"Vaccinations are poison."
"I have an immune system."
"My body, my choice."
Choice, and the freedom
to have it,
ended up being a big
commonality among these folks
I would later learn.
Hm, Harrison, how 'bout you?
They're an unlikely
mix of characters,
Steve and John Michael,
an interesting sort of family
with various family members.
And to get a good sense of
sort of who those people are,
we can portray that,
sort of, through their signs.
So, Patricia mentioned,
sizeable amount of anti-vaxxers,
a sign that said,
"Vaccinate this."
with a middle finger on it,
attached to a hockey stick,
a little bit of,
sort of, Canadiana there,
"CV Hoax," um,
references and flags.
I saw a young boy,
maybe six or seven years old
holding a sign
that said, "5G kills."
Yeah, there were
actually a lot of kids there.
There was a bubble machine,
kids sort of playing.
There were strollers
going around.
And they even said
that in coming weeks
they may have
a clown make an appearance.
Also, not a lot of
trust in media.
Some of the signs we saw,
for instance,
"Practise media
social distancing."
We still managed
to talk to that guy,
so we'll hear from him
coming up in a little bit.
But definitely, um, they're not
really having a lot of faith
in the numbers
that are coming out.
They think that
they're overblown,
that the hospitals
weren't even close to capacity,
that this all
just needs to end now
and people need
to go back to work
and normal life needs to resume.
Well, I know John Michael
and I talked about this
when it happened.
Premier Ford was
really upset with one of them
that was carrying
an upside down Canadian flag.
He interpreted it
as an insult to our troops.
And I think it actually
happened at a time when,
I think the order
had just gone out
to get Canadian Forces
into long-term care homes.
So the juxtaposition
of our Canadian Forces
going into
these homes to help out,
and somebody holding
a Canadian flag upside down,
again, Premier Ford's inference,
as if to insult the military,
he found that quite problematic.
Did you talk to anybody
with that, Harrison?
Yeah, we saw a few people
with upside down, sort of,
Canadian flags.
One of the first times
I'd sort of seen that.
We also saw people with patches
who had turned
their patches upside down.
The patches
had the flags on them.
Patricia actually
went last week again
to check in on the protest.
And she noticed,
sort of an addition to, sort of,
the group of folks
we'd been talking about.
Yeah, also on
the theme of unsettling,
I was told that
there was a contingent
from the white
supremacist movement.
Paul Fromm, for instance,
the white supremacist from
Hamilton was pointed out to me,
as well as a couple of
other suspected neo-Nazis.
The Canadian Press
actually reported
that the Black Lives Matter
march from this past weekend
was diverted from Queen's Park
"due to white supremacy."
And that's according
to a social media post from
Not Another Black Life.
And there was a small contingent
of Black Lives Matter protestors
who were still at Queen's Park.
They were just waiting
for the thousands
to arrive from the march.
And there was a little bit,
a few minor confrontations,
but eventually the anti-lockdown
crowd backed down.
They were,
of course, way outnumbered,
but important
to acknowledge nonetheless.
Yeah, like obviously
not all of them there
are white supremacists.
There's also just
people generally there
that want sort of businesses
to open their doors again,
get people back to work,
signs like "Poverty is death."
People just pointing out
that this pandemic,
and the lockdown specifically,
is having greater impacts
on people's health
as a result of the lockdown,
as a result of life,
and business, the economy,
being at such a standstill,
And there's a variety
of different sort of,
I guess, theories
that people believe here.
A lot of them
sort of conspiracies.
But that's not
what we were interested in
getting out of these people
when we were talking to them.
We weren't interested in
sort of rehashing, um,
how much they hated Bill Gates.
Hint, a lot--
Which a lot of them do.
A lot of them hate Bill Gates.
Another common thread.
Yep, and believe
he's sort of behind the virus.
We wanted to more so get a sense
of sort of where their
frustration was coming from.
But after talking to them,
we quickly noticed
another common theme emerge
of what's been uniting them.
(Honking and cheering)
There's all these people.
They're coming from
various parts of the city.
They're coming from
various groups.
So what do you think
you share though?
We don't want
the loss of our freedoms.
This is supposed to be
a free country.
That's what everybody wants.
You know, we want
our freedoms back.
Freedom to open up the country,
the city, the province,
so people
can get their lives back.
Thing is, we've never locked up
healthy people ever in history.
I'm amazed that
so many people have come out.
Because my impression
of Canadians
was they were like the British.
They're very passive.
When I first came to Canada,
in 1972, I would sort of say,
"Well, why do you guys
put up with this?"
And they'd say,
"Well, it's just the way it is."
You know,
"We can't do anything about it.
We grumble about it,
but we can't..."
And then I thought,
"They're a passive lot."
But then there's
a lot of multiculturalism.
We're all in this together
and we're all going
to lose our freedom.
And that is what
we are fighting for.
I came from Middle East
to Canada.
Where from the middle east
are you from?
I came from Sultanate of Oman
and I came in 2005.
For freedom, for human rights.
And right now,
what's happening,
this is not the place
where I came to.
MAN 2:
At the end of the day,
it's all about freedom.
If you want to wear the mask,
by all means wear the mask,
but don't tell me
to wear the mask.
So, you're saying
these people don't believe
that they're living
in a free country right now.
That's true John Michael.
Many believe
that their charter rights
are being
seriously infringed upon
during this pandemic.
A lot of them
wanna be in church.
They wanna be
sitting in those pews.
They believe that
their freedom of religion
has been infringed upon.
A lot of them as well, gathering
around the Sir John A. statue,
which we know is at, sort of,
the front of Queen's Park.
One organizer telling us
that if Sir John A. MacDonald,
our first prime minister,
could see what was going on
in Ontario right now,
he'd be spinning in his grave.
We're gonna
have to have some contact
with our Ontario hubster
in Kingston just to confirm
whether Sir John A. is in fact
still buried, or rolling
over in his grave right now.
But, we can do
that another time.
Yeah, were you able to determine
where on the political spectrum
you think these protestors land?
The belief going in
was they were predominantly part
of, or at least at one point,
part of Ford Nation.
And what we found was that
there was actually
a lot more political diversity.
♪ Get up, stand up ♪
♪ Stand up for your right ♪
Is there anyone specifically
you're sort of angry
or frustrated with?
Uh, yeah, Doug Ford,
because he, uh,
called everybody yahoos.
But really
we're just standing up
for our charter rights
and freedoms,
so you can come out here,
and stand, and talk,
and assemble,
and protest, and for him...
It's insulting.
And the hypocrisy of him
going to his cottage,
that's what really burned me.
I voted for him.
For Ford?
Yes, but now,
I'm sort of not so sure whether
he is really speaking for me.
I voted NDP in the
last three elections,
the federal and provincial.
However, in current climate,
if I only see
Conservative federal MP's
going against this agenda,
I have no problem supporting
the Conservative Party.
Yeah, I didn't vote
for Trudeau to be honest
and last year was
my first time to be able to vote
as a Canadian citizen,
but I'm not really
into politics as much.
Trudeau, I think he has to go.
He is a detriment to my health.
He is a detriment to the freedom
that we so much enjoy.
So, speaking of Trudeau,
um, during all of this,
he said that when it comes
to Canadians' relationship
with their government
there is an issue
of trust and confidence.
And that sort of pans out
in some sort
of statistical analysis.
A recent poll from Leger
and the Association
for Canadian Studies
found that
50 percent of Canadians
feel that their governments
were deliberately withholding
information about this pandemic.
But at the same time...
So, since February,
to the Angus Reid Institute,
Ford's popularity has risen
more than any other premier.
They're pegging it
at a 38 percent bump.
According to Angus Reid,
he now has
a 69 percent approval rating.
One poll from
(Unclear) Strategy though
actually pegs it at 83 percent,
putting him at the highest
popularity in the country.
So, clearly, a vast majority
of people are satisfied
with the government's
response to this pandemic.
However, that does not include
the 80 year old gentleman
who we just heard
from in that clip.
He values his freedom.
He thinks
he has an immune system
and that should
take care of things.
He's not concerned
about catching this disease.
He was out there
with his daughter.
And they were
all about the hugs.
I'm not sure about the judgment
of an 80-year-old going out
to a mass protest like that,
but we will move on.
I was worried for him.
What other similarities
did you find among
the people that you spoke to?
Well, a handful of people
we spoke to, actually,
we noticed grew up
in the eastern bloc.
And, just a little
personal insight.
I was born in communist Poland,
so I can understand where
some of them were coming from.
I mean, there was massive
state control, surveillance,
people's movement
was heavily restricted.
Government had control
over all parts of society.
And now, some believe that's
happening here to a degree.
I mean, for instance,
when I messaged my mom
a photo of Toronto's barren
store shelves back in March,
she said it looked
exactly like communist Poland.
And while she's been taking
the pandemic very seriously,
my uncle is way more aligned
in his pandemic perspectives
with these protestors.
And they feel that Canada is
heading down a slippery slope.
I was born in Soviet Union.
For me, I can smell
the propaganda a mile away
because I grew up in it.
Because when I see
censorship and propaganda,
and when I see economic
suppression of small businesses,
for me, it's a huge, red flag.
Because what happened
in history over and over again.
It happened in Nazi Germany.
It happened before
the Russian revolution.
The small businesses
are the free-thinkers.
They're the people are gonna
question the status quo.
They're the one they're
gonna say "Enough is enough."
And economically suppress
that class is the first step
before completely
dismantling it.
MAN 2:
I grew up in Germany,
after the war, and I was a kid.
And then, when I lived in East
Germany, we were caged in.
We were in a prison.
Does this actually
remind you of East Germany?
MAN 2:
In some ways it does
remind me of East Germany.
So, we've gotta
be standing up and saying
"No, this is going too far.
We will not allow this.
We have to stand up
so this is not gonna become
another police state."
Harrison? Others who
stood out for you?
I would say the best
outfit of the day
went to a protestor named Jim,
who is a big fan of guns.
He dons full combat gear
and heads to Queen's Park
to protect his gun rights,
not armed, albeit.
But he says his gun rights
are under threat.
I mean, when we first saw him
the whole get up
was very striking.
And it's definitely something
that you would more associate
with people in America.
They love
their gun rights there,
but not something
that you're used to seeing
on the lawn
of Queen's Park for sure.
This is a plate carrier.
And so inside,
I've got level 4 plates
which can stop
pretty much most rifle rounds,
even armour penetrating ones.
This is my belt.
These are some mag pouches.
I'm got my med kit,
a couple of tourniquets,
and some other stuff.
I've got a pistol holster
with no pistol,
knife sheath with no knife.
And, uh, yeah,
so it's kind of like, my, uh...
I don't know how you'd call it.
War outfit.
A few weeks ago,
I'm sure you saw,
American protestors headed into
their state legislatures armed.
What did you make
when you saw that?
What did you think
of those folks?
Yeah, that's awesome.
It's inspiring to see
the fact that they're
showing up there with guns.
To me, that means,
"Hey, we're ready to use 'em."
We're not gonna use 'em
if we don't have to,
but, it sends
the message out that, you know,
people are not gonna just take
it lying down so to speak.
I'm out here because
I wanna be peaceful.
I wanna keep it peaceful
as long as possible.
But I'm also here to say
that there's gonna come a day
when that's
no longer an option, right?
Patricia, tell us about this
former nurse that you met
while you were down there.
Yes, Deanna, she is the mother
of a child with autism,
who she very much wants
to see back in school.
She was there with her partner
who was wearing a shirt
that said, "Trump 2020,"
and holding a sign that said,
"I'd rather
be a yahoo than a slave."
Deanna spoke to us about
her previous nursing experience
and what her thoughts are
on health recommendations
like masks.
I used to be a nurse.
Fourteen years.
I was there for SARS,
for the MERS.
It was nothing like this.
I don't understand
why they're making a big deal.
Those two were worse than this.
I just think you gotta
do good hand washing
and don't cough
in anyone's face.
And that's all you gotta do.
"That's all you gotta do.
Just wash your hands and
don't cough in anyone's face."
So, what did you come away
from all this learning?
Well, some of these people's
views, they've admitted,
on COVID, have actually
lead to deep divisions
with their families.
For instance,
one of the gentlemen
from the former
Soviet Union, who we spoke to,
admitted that he's not even
able to see his young son
because his former partner
is worried about his exposure
that he's getting
at these protests.
But a lot of people
admitted that their views
have put them at odds
with friends, with family,
and they're hoping eventually
that can be bridged.
But they're so deeply holding
onto their beliefs,
and they believe so strongly
that what mainstream media's
putting out there
can't be trusted
and that their sources,
which they're getting
from a variety
of different methods online
are more reliable.
And they're just trying to stick
together beyond this message.
And really, they've been
coming together.
Like we've mentioned,
there are really
so many different groups
from all across the political
spectrum, different views.
The reasons that
they initially came out there
might be across the board.
But they are united
by this fundamental belief
that government is overstepping,
that people are losing
their freedoms unnecessarily,
and that the pandemic
is having worse effects
on people's health,
whether it's economically,
mentally, and so forth.
So, it just let us see
the humanity of it
a little bit more.
And hopefully, will help others
as well see what's behind it.
You're a mainstream media.
I am.
I mean, did none of them have
any issue talking to you,
or any suspicions that you
were somehow going to distort
whatever it was
they were telling you?
Well, the gentleman
who was holding
the media distancing sign,
we had to approach him
a couple of times,
but other than him,
people were surprisingly nice
and willing
to share their views.
They just want to be heard.
At the end of the day, they
just want their message heard.
And especially with
how it's been dealt with
with the premier
calling them yahoos.
These are the people
who supported him
in the first place.
They just feel
that nobody's listening to them.
But they're willing
to come back week after week
until their message is heard.
For those who have not seen
these pictures on television,
are they actually practising
physical distancing?
And are they wearing masks
or any of that kind of stuff?
Yeah, I wanted to mention.
We sort of looked into that.
Now, we spoke to Toronto police
who told us that,
"Listen, these folks have been
obeying social distancing.
"For those that aren't, sort of,
members of the same household,
they've been keeping far apart."
They've been "compliant"
in their words.
But that's not--
That's not what we saw.
Yeah, that's
not really what we saw.
We saw people in clusters,
grouped closely together,
sort of singing, chanting,
and we spoke to
the sergeant-at-arms,
who's in charge of sort of
security at Queen's Park.
'Cause many are seeing people
being ticketed in parks across
Ontario by by-law officers
for not social distancing,
not obeying the rules.
You don't really see that
that much at these protests.
And you might be wondering why.
Well, I think one
of the reasons is because, well,
Toronto by-law rules
for social distancing
apply to parks in Toronto,
public squares in Toronto.
The south grounds
of Queen's Park,
they're not on city property.
So it's not under
their sort of discretion.
Fun fact.
We learn
something new every day.
I also learned,
to Patricia's point,
that similar to what she said...
Listen, at the end of the day,
these people aren't mean.
They aren't sort of cruel.
They are nice,
but when it comes to
sort of these subject matters,
they are incredibly intense.
They are on a mission.
They believe a certain thing.
They have incredible distrust
for institutions, for the media,
for government,
for certain people,
and they will say that loudly.
And they will say that
loudly as they continue
to come back to
Queen's Park in coming weeks.
Good stuff.
Well, on behalf of my pal,
John Michael McGrath,
I wanna thank you two for coming
onto the #OnPoli podcast
and telling us all about it.
Thanks so much.
Thanks for having us.
Thanks, guys.

Watch: Bonus: Who are Ontario's anti-lockdown protesters?