By Ian Pattison

This is an updated version of a column that first appeared in the print edition May 2.

Chris Saccoccia got what he wanted in Thunder Bay this week -- publicity. The sinister, self-styled anti-mask anti-lockdown crusader, who calls himself Chris Sky, arrived in the city as advertised with his so-called Freedom Convoy and promptly broke the law. Allegedly, of course.

The son of a wealthy developer lives in tony King City north of Toronto and stands accused of harbouring even more detestable thoughts than opposing Covid rules. On Tuesday he invited anyone who agrees to join him at a rally in Waverly Park.

Only he didn’t show up, having been told by police that if he spoke at the rally he’d organized, he’d be violating public health rules. So things went ahead without him, featuring a series of bizarre conspiracy theorists at a microphone who urged onlookers to hug each other, and they did. Few wore masks.

When most of the 200 people followed a convoy member up to Hillcrest Park as planned, Saccoccia said on Twitch that he “just happened” to be there, in fact waiting in his Range Rover for his disciples to arrive. He told them that vaccines are not about protecting people from Covid but controlling them. Apparently many in attendance actually believed him.

I wonder how many of those same people cringed when he claimed he was here to “pick up the torch from Terry Fox.” In these parts that’s blasphemy of the highest order.

Police arrested Saccoccia under Ontario’s Emergency Management and Civil Protection Act and released him on orders to appear for a future court date. Another stage for a bad actor.

From here, Saccoccia and his band of misfits drove to Sault Ste. Marie where he got into an online war of words with a restaurant owner who reportedly refused the group free food. Saccoccia claims to be a supporter of small business.

One reason Saccoccia may be driving across the country is that he’s been placed on Canada’s no-fly list after a run-in with Public Safety Canada over plans to fly unmasked within the country.

He’s been banned from Instagram but not before promoting his spot guest hosting conspirator-in-chief Alex Jones’s syndicated radio show. Jones is so low in the gutter that he claimed the Sandy Hook school mass shooting in Connecticut was a hoax.

Saccoccia continues peddling his brand of “truth” on Facebook where he encourages people to disobey Canadian rules around virus prevention. He uses a logo that looks an awful lot like Mothers Against Drunk Driving for his own group, Mothers Against Distancing. Here again, the level of gall is breathtaking.

There is another Facebook page titled Chris Sky for Prime Minister of Canada. I didn’t go there.

While these ninnies peddle their guff to anyone naive enough to listen, ICUs in the GTA are overflowing into makeshift field hospitals set up in parking lots, and lately to hospital beds as far away as Thunder Bay. Exhausted health care personnel are being spelled by kind Newfoundland colleagues. Doctors have been forced to plan for the unthinkable -- who’ll get ventilators when there aren’t enough to go around. The military has been called in to help.

It’s all because Ontario’s government refused to heed the advice of the front-line health personnel it claims guides its policy. Now we’re playing catch-up. Thunder Bay has led the province in keeping Covid at bay after a scary outbreak this winter. But dangerous variants have leapt up to 40 cases.

Saccoccia and his ilk might want to check with haggard doctors and nurses working around the clock in those crowded Toronto hospitals trying to save the lives of deathly ill patients.

Maybe the Freedom Convoy should make its way to India where the government let up on the rules too soon to allow large election rallies and religious gatherings. What they’ve got now is the world’s fastest-growing caseload. Patients gasping for air are dying in lineups outside hospitals so full they must house two and three patients to a bed. Doctors in Delhi are pleading online for non-existent oxygen supplies while morticians burn bodies wherever there is room to light pyres.

Chris Saccoccia does not know better than public health authorities the danger that is all around us. He should know better than to urge anyone who’ll listen to ignore those experts and the rules they’ve put in place to try and save us from the biggest health emergency the world has faced in a century.

Go back home to King City, Mr. Saccoccia, and stay there.

***

Apparently the NHL game between the Montreal Canadiens and Calgary Flames Monday was a doozy. I say apparently because, once again, the Habs were blacked out in Thunder Bay and the Northwest.

The two teams are locked in a race for the fourth and final playoff slot in the league’s North Division and every game counts. I asked my Bell TV service why this game was not available to me though it was broadcast on both TSN and Sportsnet.

Here is what the on-screen advisories said:

TSN2: “Available in East ON, QC and Maritimes. West region see game on SNH-W.”

SNH-W: “Available in AB, SK, NWT and Nunavut. East region see game on TSN2.”

So, everyone in Canada except those in western Ontario, Manitoba and B.C. is free to watch the Habs. The rest are forced to pay an extra $55 per month for a premium channel.

A nice fellow at Bell responded to my question in a Chat:

“Upon checking here your area is affected with the blackout. Sporting leagues can determine a temporary block on a sports event to a selected area of subscribers (based on postal code).

“Sporting leagues can decide to blackout an event due to:

If the broadcaster was unable to purchase licenses from the league to broadcast the event

Other decisions by the league to drive attendance.

“These decisions are not made by Bell (we’d love to televise all games but we’re obligated to comply as all television service providers must).

“In this case, you can log your complaint directly with the sporting league via this link: http://www.nhl.com/ice/feedback.htm

So I did, four days ago. No reply.

***

My dad was an avid golfer. And that’s putting it mildly. My nephew loves the game. So do many of my friends. There are five golf courses in and around Thunder Bay. None of them are open. All local golfers are teed off.

Doug Ford’s Ontario government took a spanking when it tried to get tough on COVID-19 by closing playgrounds, among other things. Scientific evidence has long since shown that touching play structures, benches and the like presents a very low risk of transmission. Same with aerosol transmission outdoors. Given what we’ve learned about children’s declining mental health when cooped up indoors, shutting playgrounds was a really bad idea. So the province relented and opened them.

Not so golf courses, tennis courts and baseball diamonds. The skate park at Marina park sits empty, too. Whomever is advising Ford and his cabinet on these matters should be re-assigned so that healthy outdoor activities can resume.

Ian Pattison is retired as editorial page editor of The Chronicle-Journal, but still shares his thoughts on current affairs.