A Reopening Ontario Act charge against a Wallaceburg woman who organized a November 2020 rally against COVID-19 restrictions has been dropped, thanks to drone footage by Chatham-Kent police.
Laura Myers, 34, had previously pleaded not guilty to the charge, which carried a potential penalty of a $10,000 to $100,000 fine and as long as a year in jail.
The decision to drop the charge hinged on footage from a police drone that recorded the Chatham-Kent Freedom Group rally. The number of protesters in attendance had previously been described as more than 100, which, if true, would have rendered the outdoor gathering contrary to the Reopening Ontario Act’s limit of 25 people, defense lawyer Antoine d’Ailly said.
The lawyer noted the estimate of the number of people gathered at the Nov. 21, 2020, protest had been provided by a Chatham-Kent bylaw officer.
“The drone footage unequivocally proved that … assertion was false, despite his claim being widely publicized in previous media reports,” d’Ailly said.
As a result of the footage, the charge was formally dismissed by justice of the peace Helen Gale on Tuesday in Chatham-Kent provincial offenses court. A decision was originally supposed to be delivered on April 25 – roughly two months from now – but was rescheduled after correspondence was received from d’Ailly’s office.
“Ms. Myers was confident of the lawfulness of her actions at all times, and remained steadfast in her position and resolved throughout the prosecution and trial,” d’Ailly said in an email to The Chatham Daily News.
The lawyer noted the justice of the peace had commented on the usefulness of the police drone footage in providing the court with “a good visual observation of the event and those that gathered, the fact that the protest was attended by far fewer than the 500 people originally anticipated, and was, in fact, attended by many families, including children in strollers.”
“There was plenty of space at Tecumseh Park,” d’Ailly said.
The justice of the peace also commented on the well-intentioned legislation in the face of an unprecedented public-health crisis, and recognized the resulting divisions these measures caused among community members and even families, d’Ailly said.
“Ms. Myers was described as polite, co-operative, supportive, and welcoming by all accounts,” the lawyer added.
The lawyer also noted Gale had remarked on the waste of public resources involved in this particular case.