A federal election forum at Red Deer Polytechnic was shut down when a number of audience members did not heed repeated requests to wear masks properly.
The planned two-hour forum at RDP’s Arts Centre was only about 30 minutes old when Red Deer Polytechnic Students’ Association president and event moderator Savannah Snow announced it was ending.
“At this time, I am going to be forced to end the event. I notice that there are still some audience members not following the rules we set in place.”
At least one person hooted loudly as the event came to a close and others applauded. The forum, for both Red Deer-Lacombe and Red Deer-Mountain View candidates, was hosted by the students’ association and the Red Deer and District Chamber of Commerce.
There appeared to be only a handful of people in the 80-strong crowd breaking the rules by not fully masking up.
Shortly after the event was called off and the stage lights turned off Snow explained the decision.
“We decided any hints of non-compliance would not be tolerated,” she said. “We were forced to do what we had to do. We keep the safety of our students in mind and we do not want to be the epicentre of a COVID outbreak.
“We simply asked the people in the audience (to follow the rules), and that wasn’t done so we had to shut down the event, which was really disappointing.”
In a statement, RDP vice-president of college services Jim Brinkhurst said “we are disappointed that a handful of citizens chose not to comply with current COVID-19 public health measures by not wearing face coverings while seated in the audience after repeatedly being asked to do so.
“It was for this reason that our students’ association, in consultation with institutional leaders, determined that it was unsafe to continue with the planned debate indoors.”
After the arts centre emptied, six candidates held an impromptu forum outside on the lawn, taking questions from the crowd of about two dozen for about an hour.
Incumbents Red Deer-Mountain View MP Blaine Calkins and Red Deer-Lacombe MP Earl Dreeshen were among the candidates who left shortly after the main event was called off.
Several police vehicles pulled up outside the arts centre and officers watched the outdoor gathering from a distance.
It’s the second forum in two nights that was disrupted by mask offenders.
A forum in Innisfail was cut short on Wednesday evening after 20 minutes after about two dozen people showed up and refused to don masks despite repeated requests.
Innisfail and District Chamber of Commerce, which hosted the forum, will have federal election candidates answer written questions instead.
One audience member at the Red Deer forum who would not give her name, was angry people lost an opportunity to hear the candidates state their views.
“There is a vote coming up and most of them want Trudeau out and I want everyone to speak and find out what each person is standing for so I can make a proper, informed decision and vote.
“And I’m not allowed that. I have rights.”
The woman, who was wearing a mask, said she came with two others who had letters that exempted them from wearing masks for health reasons.
Another woman said she showed her exemption letter, although she feels it was an infringement on her privacy.
“They said, ‘Yeah, go in.’ So why is she shutting it down?”
Some candidates also expressed their disappointment with the turn of events.
Red Deer-Mountain View NDP candidate Marie Grabowski did not join the impromptu debate but stuck around speaking with people.
“I made it through the introduction and answered one question before we got shut down,” Grabowski. “It’s really unfortunate that there are people who are disrespectful of the democratic process.
“It was all being recorded so they could have watched it later from their own home. They did not have to come into the building and they did not have to refuse to follow the rules of the debate.”
Red Deer-Mountain View Liberal candidate Olumide Adewumi pointed out Alberta’s death toll from COVID has been rising.
“We need to fight this COVID pandemic until we end the war. So, I’m really disappointed that people would not want to follow the safety protocols.”
Other candidates from Red Deer-Mountain View who were there include: Kelly Lorencz (People’s Party of Canada), Jared Pilon (Libertarian), and Mark Wilcox (Maverick Party). Clayten Willington (Independent) was absent.
Red Deer-Lacombe candidates attending also included: Joan Barnes (Independent), Harry Joujan (Maverick Party), Megan Lim (People’s Party of Canada) and Matt Watson (Libertarian Party of Canada). Tanya Heyden-Kaye (NDP) and David Ondieki (Liberal) were absent.