Disturbing scenes unfolded on social media after a woman was arrested outside a Queensland cafe for refusing to show her vaccine passport.
The woman, known as Rebecca, who had left the cafe moments before when police came in to check people’s vaccine passports, was wrestled by police into a waiting van.
Bruises could be seen on the 46-year-old woman’s arms after being handled roughly by the officers putting her into the police van. Rebecca insisted that she was perfectly happy to share her name and address with the arresting officers as required – just not her vaccination status.
“You can’t arrest me!” pleaded Rebecca. “I’m happy to show you my information.”
Matt Straight, owner of the Dayman General Store in Hervey Bay (the cafe in question), filmed the arrest which took place on Wednesday.
Rebecca had voluntarily left the cafe, but five police officers still arrested her for being in the cafe moments before. It was her first time dining at the cafe.
Onlookers jeered and heckled police, disgusted by the scene playing out in front of them.
“What are doing? Leave her alone! I hope you guys are happy with yourselves!!!” said the crowd that had gathered. “My taxes pay your wages.”
The distressed woman continued to plead her case while standing in the back of the van, completely bewildered by the absurdity of the situation. “This is ridiculous. You can’t arrest me?!”
“What a f**ked country we live in now. You guys [the police] are filth. How could you do that to that lady?” said another onlooker. “Where were you guys when we got broken into four times? Wish there was that many [police].”
“I am so embarrassed to be an Australian.”
It is understood that Rebecca had not been outside since December 17. “She thought ‘bugger it, I’m going to have a cup of coffee today’, and look what happened,” said the cafe owner.
Staff at the cafe are understood to be very distressed by the incident, having been targeted by police before.
The cafe put up a post later explaining, “The police did not know Rebecca’s medical background. Rebecca left the premises immediately and was polite and respectful throughout. She did not know why she was being arrested and like any normal person, did not want to be arrested. Because she didn’t want to be arrested, she was ‘obstructing justice.”
Queensland Police released a statement confirming that the woman ‘refused to comply after several warnings’ – despite the video showing Rebecca’s obvious distress and confusion.
“Acting on information from members of the public, officers attended an Urangun cafe on January 12 to ensure the business and its patrons were complying with the current Chief Health Officer’s public health directions,” said a spokesperson from Queensland Police. “After several warnings, the 46-year-old Toogoom woman was arrested and charged with contravening a direction (failure to state her name and address) and obstructing police. She is due to appear in the Hervey Bay Magistrates Court March 10.”
The video clearly shows Rebecca offering to share these details with the arresting officers on multiple occasions.
Mr Straight said that the cafe had been fully compliant with both state and federal laws surrounding QR-check-in and vaccine passports.
Last December, the cafe owner wanted to provide options for both vaccinated and unvaccinated locals with their open garden section and socially-distanced tables.
“People can go to food courts and sit side by side, we thought if we opened our garden area, it’d be okay. We did a video saying we welcome all of the community, a few days later, on Christmas Eve, three police arrived in their paddy wagon saying we were providing false information and that unvaccinated people can’t even sit in the garden.”
The reason for this given by Queensland Health was because the open garden was attached to the main venue and that, because of this technicality, all patrons must be vaccinated.
It was this incident that caused Queensland Police to issue a warning that they would be back to check on patron’s vaccine passports. Rebecca was reportedly sitting in the cafe during one of these checks and walked out when police came in. Police then followed her out where the arrest was made.
“Businesses cannot apply for an exemption to the mandate. Individuals can apply for an exemption if they cannot be vaccinated for genuine medical reasons – this applies to very few people,” said a spokesperson for Queensland Health.