A rally planned for Saturday in Steinbach has not received support from the community.

Both Steinbach's mayor and Chamber of Commerce voiced concerns leading up to the Jan. 16 rally, organized by the Hugs Over Masks group.

The group says its weekend demonstration is not an "anti-mask rally" and will feature speakers from religious, business, and medical backgrounds.

Steinbach Chamber of Commerce president Wayne Patram released a statement Wednesday regarding the protest.

"Once again, we have heard concerns from our local business members that Steinbach will be the location for a protest that intends to challenge current government restrictions. While I find activities like this one disheartening, especially at a time when our communities are fatigued and exhausted after a long year, I also think it is necessary that a response be offered. I often hear “freedom” being invoked in relation to protests like this one, and while I am incredibly grateful for the freedom that we have in our country, I also think that there is responsibility attached to honouring the freedom that we enjoy. Simply put, we must use discernment in how we exercise our freedom, and I suggest that it is our responsibility to exercise our freedom in productive ways.

"Having the freedom to protest does not therefore mean that we ought to do it. Perhaps our freedom ought to be used to unify our community, to support each other and to help those struggling during this time. Perhaps our freedom ought to be used to engage our leaders in dialogue on policy as we all endeavour to find our way on a journey for which there is no map. Perhaps our freedom ought to be used to build our resilience, to preserve our hope, and to protect our future. When I consider Steinbach, I see our community and our leaders doing all these things. When I consider Steinbach, I see a community with incredible heart, character, and integrity - a community that I am proud to call ‘home.’

"In considering the upcoming rally, I see an event that presents the opposite reflection of the values we hold as a community. To the leaders of the rally, I urge you to reconsider holding this event. There is no productive next step to an event like this. To the potential attendees of this event, may I also ask you to reconsider your involvement. Our freedom is much too precious to be used carelessly.'

"I am grateful to our business community for their perseverance in facing the challenges of the year. I am thankful for a community that continues to show their support and build each other up. I am thankful for our business and municipal leaders who continue to advocate in support of the health of our community and the health of our local businesses. This is the Steinbach that we reflect every day. This is the reflection that matters."

Steinbach mayor Earl Funk says he is insulted that another anti-government-protest is being planned in the city this weekend.

"These people are from outside of Steinbach," the mayor stresses. "I don’t think the organizers of this rally care about our city at all and, to me, it is insulting that they are doing this again."

Funk does not believe this behaviour is indicative of the values of his fellow residents and was dismayed to hear the rally would take place on the steps of City Hall.

"Steinbach has worked very hard to follow the restrictions," Funk says. "In November the numbers were very high and Steinbach has worked very hard to bring those numbers down."

"You have the right to protest, other people have the right to breathe, so make sure that you distance properly while you are protesting and that you respect the public health orders," Premiere Brian Pallister said in response to the protest Tuesday.

"There are orders against assembling in groups of over a certain number, don’t break those orders. If you don’t follow the rules, you are going to pay a fine."

Pallister says he is aware that much of this unrest is likely a product of the minimal changes to restrictions that were announced on December 8, when the province was scheduled to review their public health orders.

"I get that you’re frustrated," he says to would-be participants. "I’m frustrated too. But the fact of the matter is we are only going to get through this together if we stay together and follow the public health orders."

Hugs Over Masks, who first staged a protest in Steinbach's A.D. Penner Park in Nov. 2020, says their gathering will be a "peaceful assembly."