Fans heading to the Toronto Maple Leafs’ season opener last night walked past a rather odd sight: a disgraced former cosmetic surgeon who swore to never practice medicine again leading a group of anti-vaxxers in a rousing rendition of Stompin’ Tom’s “Hockey Song.”
“For the kids,” he exclaimed, as he finished his tune with a strum of his guitar.
The song was one of the final acts of Shinny Night in Canada, an anti-vaccine event held outside of Scotiabank Arena in Toronto Wednesday evening. The event was sold as a massive road hockey tournament for children to show the unvaccinated should be able to play with the vaccinated.
But while it started with children playing hockey, it quickly devolved into standard anti-vax rally fare. By the time the first line of the “Hockey Song” was sung, the kids playing shinny in the street were forgotten as the group crowded around the stage to take in myriad speeches that ranged from the banal to the deranged.
“You don’t need to go into one of the death hospitals to be treated for fake COVID because you have a cough,” one of the speakers said before telling the attendees to go to her website.
The event goes to show that even though the Canadian federal election is over, the rallies featuring politicians raging against the lockdown, vaccine mandates, or the conspiracy du jour—and the anger fuelling them—are not going away. The organizers, Dermont Pomeroy and Jody Ledgerwood, painted themselves as concerned parents who came up with the shinny idea, but the two have been active in the anti-lockdown and COVID-conspiracy movement for quite some time. The website for the event does little to conceal its anti-vax message, offering users a downloadable package of PDFs titled “18 Reasons not to take the COVID Vaccine.”
If the history of the organizers and the website didn’t convince you, all you had to do was listen to the speeches.
“You have no right to tell our children that they have to participate in a medical experiment so that big pharma can make more money and you can kill everybody else around and play god,” screamed Ledgerwood in an intense speech near the end of the evening. “It is up to us to protect our children!”
Pomeroy and Ledgerwood are, among other things, key members of Rise Up Durham, an Ontario anti-vaccine and lockdown group that predominantly organizes rallies and trips for maskless shoppers to go to stores and antagonize retail workers by flaunting the rules. Pomeroy has embraced sovereign citizen ideology—a wide-ranging (and legally quite wrong) idea that a person is sovereign and the laws of a country like Canada or a municipality like Toronto do not apply to them. The ideology has become increasingly popular in the movement.
The main point of the rally—children need to be protected from vaccines—has been a central theme of rallying and recruitment for the community for several months.
The rally, which seemingly was organized quickly, was excitedly chatted about in COVID-conspiracy circles for a few weeks while organizers did the rounds asking for donations. A significant portion of money went into it; the rally featured a sound and video truck that worked as the stage for the evening and plenty of merchandise for sale.
The road, which leads into the large arena the Leafs play home games in, was closed by police. (During the livestreams, the group repeatedly mentioned it was happy for the police’s help.) When contacted by VICE World News, Toronto police said they weren’t aiding the anti-vaxxers but instead were there because of that evening’s game.
“As with other significant games at the arena, the Toronto Police Service has implemented a number of road closures and security measures in the area for tonight,” a spokesperson told VICE World News. “We are aware of the event. It is not sanctioned by the Toronto Police Service or Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment.”
The organizers had claimed to their fans that former NHL player Sean Avery and NHL commentator Don Cherry would be there; unsurprisingly, neither made an appearance. The day before the event, the group did take photos with Cherry where he was wearing a hat of the organization, but on Instagram, Ledgerwood apologized to him for a “surprise pop-in.”
The night before, the organizers joined a livestream typically hosted by a far-right vlogger and provocateur who was just sentenced to 18 months in prison for numerous contempt of court charges because he wouldn’t stop slandering a Muslim restaurateur.
"The PPC [People’s Party of Canada] has stepped up,” said Pomeroy on the stream. “When they heard about the initiative they wanted to be involved.” Unsurprisingly, Maxime Bernier, leader of the far-right fringe group PPC, spoke at the event and the party gave away “loot bags” to those who attended.
Like with any sort of conspiracy event, the ideas weren’t cohesive, and ranged from “COVID is entirely fake,” to “COVID is real but not as bad as some say and the vaccine will kill you,” to “COVID was created as a weapon.” What was consistent were the beliefs that vaccines are dangerous, and the vaccine mandates and passports need to be stopped and those who implemented them must be punished.
“This is manslaughter or its second-degree murder perpetrated by our public health and [Ontario Premier] Doug Ford and Justin Trudeau and they need to be held accountable,” said sitting Ontario MPP Randy Hillier, referencing the conspiracy the vaccines are causing young people to die at a high rate.
The crowd chanted “lock them up” in response. Presumably, forgotten about somewhere next to the stage, the children of the cheering parents played on.
Follow Mack Lamoureux on Twitter.