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Shuswap woman attracts provincial attention with her lone pro-COVID-19-vaccine sign

Counter-protest at B.C. legislature noticed by media, mentioned by provincial health officer
Shuswap woman Nell Saba counter-protests an anti-vaccination protest outside the B.C. legislature in Victoria in October. (Reddit image)

A young Shuswap woman has been making a solitary statement in Victoria, one that’s been noticed by a couple of media outlets as well as the provincial health officer.

Nell Saba, 25, who went to Salmon Arm Secondary, graduated from the University of Victoria and now lives in Victoria, drove by what was called a ‘freedom rally’ at the B.C. legislature. About a week later – in early September – she drove by a similar rally there again, so she decided to make a small sign of her own out of cardboard with the words, ‘Vaccines save lives, ignorance kills.’

“Because I don’t really think you can disagree with that,” she said, adding, “Obviously people will.”

She began going to the protests twice a week, as well as some pop-up demonstrations. Her sign got a little bigger.

She stood alone among the anti-vaccine protesters and, the first time, she said, quite a few people were trying to argue with her. She said she didn’t want to, “because either you believe the facts or you don’t.”

“A lot of the information they’re using is cherry picked – it’s misinformation often but also disinformation so it’s… misleading on purpose. It’s impossible to argue.

“But I was definitely quite frustrated because some of them had Stars of David on their signs – they’re basically implying they’re facing a similar struggle that Jews did during the Holocaust. Then they’re co-opting signs from other movements like, ‘My body, my choice.’”

She said while some of the protesters have been respectful, one man in particular has been very offensive.

“Calling me really bad names, like using the ‘C’ word. I overheard him say, ‘I would kill her if I knew I could get away with it.’ Just things like that. There is definitely misogyny underlying a lot of it.”

After Saba had been a lone counter-protester for a while, she was featured on CHEK News in Victoria and later mentioned in the Times Colonist.

The Oct. 23 newspaper article was referring to Provincial Health Officer Bonnie Henry and a race she participated in where there continued to be a need for security for her. Henry is quoted as mentioning Saba by name, stating that she admires her for her peaceful protest where she quietly and calmly gets her voice out.

“I was definitely flattered,” said Saba. “I have had a lot of people say that they admire me, and that I’m a hero, but I really don’t think I am. Like I’m not working in a hospital during the pandemic. I have the time to hold a sign.”

Read more: Elementary class in Salmon Arm recognized nationally for acts of kindness

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Immediately following the TV coverage, about 20 people joined her in a counter-protest.

She said it was nice when they arrived but she feels a little responsible for their safety. She said now that the counter-protest is larger, it has crossed the street away from the other protest.

“Luckily everyone has been wearing masks and we’re learning how to try to not engage because it’s very easy for a fight. I think when I was alone I was less intimidating to a lot of them. But maybe now it’s a little different.”

Asked if she has been frightened, Saba said she sometimes has social anxiety in her life, but she doesn’t feel it much during her counter-protests.

“But I did get coffee thrown on me at one point. Kind of out of the blue. It definitely surprised me.”

She also emphasized she’s not counter-protesting to change anyone’s mind.

“I’d be surprised if I’d be able to,” she said, adding that in Victoria, she is representing the majority.

“I see people driving by and they’re so frustrated they have to drive by these protesters when the unvaccinated are a burden on the health-care system right now… I’ve had people come up and say ‘thank you, I was feeling really frustrated and it was really nice to see your sign.’”

She said it’s a way of dealing with her own frustration, particularly the discounting of experts, those who are educated in particular fields.

“It’s really frustrating when scientists and medical experts aren’t considered trustworthy anymore. What’s the point of getting an education if no one is going to listen to you? I just think it’s really frustrating – like when some anti-vaxxers come up and try to argue with me. I say, I’m not an expert. If you have questions, ask a doctor, ask a scientist…”

She emphasized: “I just have a philosophy, I’m not at all qualified to debate vaccines and so that’s what I tell them. But I definitely know who the experts are. And I try not to find out all my information on Facebook. Also, just because I’m choosing to get vaccinated does not make me a sheep. I’m still a critical thinker, but I listen to the medical authority for medical advice.”

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Martha Wickett

About the Author: Martha Wickett

came to Salmon Arm in May of 2004 to work at the Observer. I was looking for a change from the hustle and bustle of the Lower Mainland, where I had spent more than a decade working in community newspapers.
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