Premier Scott Moe had strong words Wednesday for an Ontario anti-masker who is slated to make two appearances in Saskatchewan this weekend — including one in a community recently touched by a nearby party-turned-superspreader.
"I don't think this is any time for someone to be travelling halfway across the country to come in and to advocate for Saskatchewan people to be not wearing masks, not following public health orders, and doing it in an area where we have just had the very first few cases of what be proved to be a quite a bit more of a challenging virus," Moe said.
The premier was referring to Chris Saccoccia, who also identifies himself as "Chris Sky." Saccoccia has rallied against health measures during the COVID-19 pandemic. A "Calgary Freedom Walk" video dated April 17 and posted on Saccoccia's website shows him leading a crowd of dozens of unmasked people in a chant of, "Just say No!"
According to Saccoccia's website and Twitter feed, his "freedom convoy" is set to arrive in Maple Creek, Sask., on Saturday. Maple Creek is about 476 kilometres southwest of Regina.
An Easter weekend "recreational party" in the Maple Creek area went "way over" the current outdoor gathering limit and featured "minimal" adherence to public health rules, according to Health Minister Paul Merriman.
According to Global News, more than 100 people attended that party and the ensuing outbreak involves the UK variant.
As of Friday, 40 cases of COVID-19 were tied to the event.
Moe said he couldn't say whether the highly transmissible P1 variant associated with Brazil is specifically tied to that outbreak, but noted that five cases of the P1 variant were just reported in the southwest region (under which Maple Creek falls) on Tuesday.
Holding a mass gathering in the area would be "highly inappropriate," Moe said.
"He's going to Maple Creek?" Ryan Meili, the leader of the Saskatchewan NDP, asked incredulously when told of Sky's planned stop. "When we have P1 variants showing up in the southwest of the province? Where we had a major outbreak after a party?
"What an idiot. He should stay the hell away from Saskatchewan."
CBC News has reached out to Saccoccia for comment.
Regina is also listed as a stop on Saccoccia's tour.
The capital city has faced the brunt of Saskatchewan's coronavirus variant of concern cases in recent weeks, as well as a surge in infected ICU patients.
Health officials are strongly recommending against travel in and out of the city.
"The City of Regina continues to call on everyone to respect all provincial public health measures currently in place, including the recommendation [against] travel," the city said in an emailed statement to CBC News.
Maple Creek mayor alerts RCMP
Michelle McKenzie, the mayor of Maple Creek, said the town learned Tuesday afternoon of Saccoccia's upcoming weekend stop and alerted the RCMP to inform them of a possible large gathering.
"They will be monitoring for non compliance," she said.
CBC News has reached out to the Saskatchewan RCMP for comment.
One Facebook post spreading the word about Saccoccia's event encouraged people from the nearby communities of Fox Valley, Consul, Richmound, Tompkins, Piapot, Medicine Hat and Swift Current to attend.
"It is a high concern. It's very unfortunate," McKenzie said.
'We respect peaceful protests': mayor
McKenzie said that as a leader, she has to walk a fine line when it come to events like those hosted by Saccoccia.
"We want to make sure the Town of Maple Creek supports freedom of speech and respects each individual's rights and opinions. We also respect peaceful protests as it's the right of Canadian citizens," she said.
"However, at this time, we do not encourage mass gatherings due to the increase of COVID-19 cases in our community and the variants of concern."
If anyone is thinking of attending Saccoccia's event, they should "keep it lawful" and stay home if they're feeling unwell, McKenzie said.
All public and private outdoor gatherings are limited to 10 people under Saskatchewan's current public health order.
"Those public health orders are in place for a reason This is what can happen if they're not followed," McKenzie said.