MONTREAL -- Several hundred demonstrators marched the through streets in downtown Montreal Saturday to protest COVID-19 safety measures in schools.

At the start of the march at Place des Festivals, participants held up signs reading “Let us breathe,” “School without measures” and “Liberty.”

The crowd was made up largely of families, and several attendees were not wearing face coverings. Demonstrations are still permitted during a pandemic as long as participants wear masks.

Many children took to the stage to testify that wearing a mask gives them headaches and interferes with their concentration. 

"Because of masks and COVID, I no longer have friends. Before, when I went to school, I was happy. I liked going to school, seeing my friends, but because of the masks I can't anymore," said 11-year-old Nolan. 

The event, called “La Grande Marche des enfants” was organized by the same group that encouraged parents to keep their children at home after spring break last month, in protest against the wearing of procedural masks in primary school.

This directive, initially applied in the red zone, will be extended to orange zones Monday.

By making this announcement earlier this week, Premier François Legault emphasized the great adaptability of toddlers.

“I know some parents were worried about the impact on young children, but I can tell you that we are already doing it in the red zones, it is going very well.”

But Luc Belanger, who comes from Granby, said he wants to see measures other than wearing a mask to protect his five children from the virus. He said he believes government officials are "doing their best," but said he chose to participate in Saturday's event since it's focused on the well-being of children and "not necessarily everything that revolves around conspiracies."

Another father, Luc Baillargeon, said he accepts the label of conspiracy theorist, saying the dangers of COVID-19 have been exaggerated for the purpose of "control."

The government recorded 21,410 cases of COVID-19 among students and school system staff during the first half of the year. And as of Thursday, more than 18,000 other infections have been reported.

More than one in four active outbreaks can currently be linked to the school network.

-- This report by The Canadian Press was first published on April 10, 2021.