Residents of Gananoque and the surrounding area were polarized this past Sunday morning, Sept. 6, 2021, as between 25 and 30 demonstrators led by Councilman Michael Kench gathered in front of Gananoque Town Hall to protest against the Ontario government’s planned vaccination certification system.
Ontario Premier Doug Ford announced last week that Ontarians will have to provide proof of full vaccination as of Sept. 22, in order to enter non-essential businesses, such as bars and gyms.
Councilman Kench’s roughly 50 minute protest on Sunday featured residents waving placards emblazoned with text such as “NO VAXX PASSPORT” and “FUHRER FORD SAYS: SHOW ME YOUR PAPERS”.
This demonstration was met with honks of support from passing motorists, as well as jeers and heckling from citizens who voiced support of mandatory vaccination measures. Michael Kench insisted that the rally he held was led as a private citizen and not in any official political capacity as city councilman.
“I don’t want to speak on behalf of others who don’t necessarily agree with my perspective – for some reason it’s a controversial subject and I didn’t want to expose a group – I didn’t want to offend anyone or disillusion the public by making them think everyone on council was on board with me,” offered Kench, when asked why protesting under the label of a private citizen was important to him.
Kench said that the desire to form the protest came from “a culmination of a year and a half of feeling pent-up, restricted and pushed back.” He added that his interpretation of data, and his knowledge of healthy living as a gym owner and graduate of statistics and health-related programs at Queen’s University, provided acumen that more than warranted a measure of skepticism when it came to COVID vaccine effectiveness, as well as their potential health risks.
“I don’t even buy shoes without knowing what I’m getting into so when the vaccines and mandates first came out, I didn’t feel personally prepared to be vaccinated yet, and I thought that there were other people like me who were nervous about this, and the idea that we would be segregated or shamed by society,” Kench said.
While most at the protest refused to provide commentary, one participant later offered “For me, it’s about personal choice. This is my body. I decide what goes in it. To me, that’s common sense and a personal right that trumps all others no matter what the government has to say about it.”
When asked if they were worried about others in the community and how refusal to vaccinate might potentially compromise public health, the protestor stated simply “No.” and refused further commentary.
While many counter-protesters attributed Kench’s stance to affiliation or sympathies with the far-right political party The People’s Party of Canada, Kench refuted this, saying that he feels the same way about personal choice when it comes to all matters of the human body, including women’s right to abortion, and candidly stated on record that he has voted either Liberal or NDP in the majority of past elections.
This past Spring, Councilman Kench also pushed a motion for the provincial government to end the province-wide lockdown, returning instead to a colour-coded system. This passed motion also urged the government to put kids back in school and promote personal well-being through nutrition, exercise and vitamin D levels as an alternative to existing provincial measures to combat COVID.
To date, he said, he hasn’t received a response from this motion despite numerous follow-ups with both the council clerk and the mayor of Gananoque.
Public health officials in Ontario continue to promote vaccination and advise that COVID vaccine complications are extremely rare and that while side-effects may potentially cause immediate health concerns for those sensitive or allergic to vaccine ingredients, getting the vaccine is still scientifically proven to be far less dangerous to both personal and public health than the COVID virus itself.
Despite these mandatory vaccine protests, the tri-county area of Leeds, Grenville and Lanark continues to lead the province for vaccination rates for most age groups, and its health unit continues to strive for a 90 per cent vaccination rate.