Canada’s BBQ revolution didn’t even make it to lunchtime.
The general of the failed battle was Adam Skelly, a man who became the pride and joy of Canada’s anti-lockdown movement after opening his unlicensed Etobicoke BBQ despite lockdown orders and his subsequent arrest for civil disobedience. Skelly, arguably the first anti-lockdown celebrity in Canada, quickly won the heart of the anti-masker crowd and those around him began raising money to pay for legal fees to fight the legitimacy of the government ordered lockdowns.
His followers believed in him to the tune of $341,300 and they hoped Skelly would be the one who would once and for all prove the lockdowns put in place to fight the global COVID-19 pandemic were unconstitutional. After filing a constitutional challenge to the closure order he received, Skelly was able to get himself a two-day hearing before the court.
For weeks Skelly had hyped the court date up as one where he would tear down the government's reasoning for the lockdowns and his followers have been salivating in anticipation. He wrote an excited blog post earlier today to get his followers ready and spent last week hustling for media attention, but only managed to get a few write ups from obscure outlet’s sympathetic to the anti-lockdown cause, including one headline that said: "Skelly trial will demolish Ford’s justifications for lockdowns."
To say today’s court hearing was a swing and a miss would be an understatement.
Skelly, published the Zoom and call-in details to the hearing to his BBQ restaurants’ website and social media pages, leading to the call being jam-packed to the point that the judge couldn’t join the meeting room. The clerk had to beg people to get the number below 500 so Ontario Superior Court Justice Jasmine Akbarali could join. After Akbarali managed to squeeze in, they found the lead counsel from Ontario had then been locked out and the same song and dance occurred.
“Please be kind enough to log off,” the clerk exasperatedly told the crowd. “So counsel can log in.”
Finally, 20 minutes after all those who needed to be in the room managed to get in—and the court took a few minutes to allow the hundreds of people in virtual attendance to figure out how to mute their computers—the hearing ensued. The hearing started poorly for Skelly’s lawyer Michael Swinwood (who has been at the helm of another anti-lockdown lawsuit where he filed a class-action suit against the Pope and Bill Gates and others, and once said COVID was no worse than the seasonal flu) and it continued in a downward trajectory for the crusaders from there.
Justice Akbarali stated there was a “jurisdictional” issue in the paperwork Skelly’s team filed and they needed to sort it before they started. Swinwood seemed flummoxed at this and said he needed to get a document that was in another room and left the Zoom meeting for several minutes. Swinwood returned and argued legalese with the Ontario counsel for a bit. Less than an hour into proceedings, Akbarali called for a break to figure out a way forward.
During this break Skelly spoke for the first time. The restaurateur, clearly believing they would be able to continue, twice asked if the court would let more people into the Zoom room so they could witness his fight. He received no answer. His followers, many of whom had their cameras still on, accidentally began to take centre stage by talking while unmuted. A lone man sadly said "please turn off your microphones and video” each time it happened, the exasperation in his voice reaching a near fever pitch by the time the judge returned.
An anti-lockdown activist enjoys some of Skelly's BBQ during the breif moment Skelly opened during the lockdown. Photo via THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
Quickly upon her reentry, Akbarali put an end to the hopes of many in attendance.
“I regret to say I do not think I have the jurisdiction to proceed to deal with these issues on the merits today,” she said. “I do not think the proceeding has been constituted in such a way to give me that jurisdiction.”
She added if she did hear and rule on the case it would be easily overturned and appealed because she didn’t have the proper jurisdiction so spending time arguing it was pointless. Akbarali said if Skelly’s lawyers could try and "expand their notice” but “as it is structured today, I do not have the jurisdiction to deal with it.” Ontario’s lawyers asked for Skelly’s team to pay $15,000 in legal fees for their trouble.
Caryma Sa’d, a lawyer who closely follows the anti-lockdown movement, watched the Zoom hearing. She told VICE World News that what happened was complicated but what it comes down to is that, “in court, you generally can't get what you don't ask for.”
“You need to ask for things in specific ways, and at specific times, according to the rules of civil procedure.The fundamental issue is that Skelly did not commence his own application against Ontario,” she said. “He was merely responding to the province's application that he stop contravening (the lockdown order.)”
Before the case was heard, Skelly’s lawyers and the Crown filed factums for the case. The Skelly filing was a vast sprawling 145-page document that encompasses many, many arguments whereas the Crown filed a 15-page response. The Crown argued Skelly and his team were trying to turn their limited challenge into something far larger.
“All of the Respondents’ many and far-fetched grievances about vaccines, PCR testing, hydroxychloroquine, stay-at-home orders, purported cost-benefit calculations, herd immunity, and the World Health Organization—among many other such topics—are superfluous to this proceeding; indeed, they are vexatious,” it reads.
The judge evidently agreed.
It was, to put it lightly, not what the anti-lockdown folk were hoping to happen on their big day. The legions of fans there to see their BBQ man take down the government weren’t happy. A few unmuted to let their displeasure be known. “Bullshit,” one man cried out. “Injustice,” wailed a woman, “this is injustice.”
Unsurprisingly, Skelly and his team are already painting what happened away as simple corruption. Skelly laid the groundwork for this in his morning blog, writing "the Crown will rely on procedural BS or a biased judge.” Afterwards on Twitter he wrote, “welcome to Chinada.”
At the same time as the court hearing, there was a rally of supporters who gathered at Nathan Phillips Square . It took them about ten minutes to realize the case was tossed out. Eventually, an associate of Skelly spoke to the crowd (via a speakerphone held up to a microphone) where he said he wasn’t surprised by the ruling. He said the decision was reminiscent of the “Soviet Union”, and promised Skelly and crew will continue their fight—with some monetary help from the crowd, of course.
"We're going to have to do another raise for more money obviously," he said.
That was one of the few things the crowd didn't applaud.
Follow Mack Lamoureux on Twitter.