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Science communicators have more to do, say experts, following volatile anti-lockdown rallies this weekend

Last Updated Apr 12, 2021 at 7:20 pm CDT

OTTAWA – Canadians opposed to continued lockdowns and pandemic health restrictions took to the streets in frustration over the weekend.

In Montreal, that frustration gave way to anger and destruction.

While not every protest across the country escalated, the eruption in Montreal is a sign Canada’s science communicators have more work to do.

“I think it’s important for people to be able to vent that. People who’ve lost their livelihoods, people who are very upset. It’s going to come out one way or the other. And I think if they’re going to protest outside, that’s something we should accommodate. And I think we should understand what their perspective is, and try and gauge that, rather than try and make it stop,” said Colin Furness, an epidemiologist at the University of Toronto.

“The public has really observed the science unfold in real-time here, watched sort of speculation, inquiry, and corrections, and mixed messaging going on for a lot of different reasons,” explained Adam Oliver Brown, a professor and science communicator at the University of Ottawa.

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“One of the reasons, however, is that’s just how science works. We propose hypotheses, we test them, and if they’re not correct, we correct them and move on with other ideas. And that’s how we move on with a better understanding of each step along the way.”

Montreal’s protest wasn’t the only one in Canada on Sunday.

Protesters gathered outside GraceLife church west of Edmonton, which was closed last week by Alberta Health Services for not complying to public health orders.

A small part of that group tore down some fencing, but the crowd stayed mostly peaceful. The same couldn’t be said of protests in Montreal.

“I really do understand the frustration from these young people. You know, that, like, we all have a bit of pandemic fatigue at this point. But when I see a bunch of people who are gathering in large groups, not wearing masks, and yelling their airborne aerosols all over each other, it just makes me sad to think that’s going to make things much worse, rather than improve the situation we’re already in,” said Brown.

“I have to say I was stunned, because it was a much stronger reaction than I expected, in terms of the violence, number of people involved,” said Daniel Beland, who teaches at Montreal’s McGill University.

“This is really a level of violence that is quite shocking.”

He says he didn’t expect Sunday’s protest to turn destructive. Beland says he understands concerns about the loss of freedoms and civil liberties, but says if these protests turn violent, protesters only hurt their own cause.

WATCH: Anti-curfew protest in Montreal turns violent

“A lot of people who protest against masks and public health mandates are also against looting and what happened in Montreal. So, we have to, also, be careful to say that it’s not because you’re critical of the government and public health measures and curfews, that you’re necessarily supporting looting and vandalism. And I think it’s important to keep that in mind,” said Beland.

Beland adds that while all Canadians have a right to protest and free assembly, those freedoms are predicated on protests remaining peaceful. And if those opposed to lockdowns want to gain support, what happened in Montreal can’t be repeated.

-with files from Xiaoli Li