Poilievre joins march against vaccine requirement in Ottawa

OTTAWA — Conservative Party leadership candidate Pierre Poilievre joined the final leg of a march Thursday led by a Canadian soldier accused of speaking out against vaccination requirements — a move that is raising hopes and fears of a new wave of demonstrations in Ottawa.

Reservist James Topp was charged in February with two counts of conduct to the prejudice of good order and discipline, for remarks made while wearing his uniform. For the past four months, he has been leading a march to the capital, from Vancouver.

His march was supported by many of the same figures involved in the “freedom convoy,” which packed up downtown Ottawa for weeks last winter until police uses force to end what the government has described as an « illegal occupation ».

The arrival of James Topp in the federal capital and the promises of a new wave of demonstrations starting on Canada Day on Friday have Ottawa residents worried. Mayor Jim Watson and Acting Police Chief Steve Bell have promised to crack down on illegal activity.

MP Poilievre walked alongside Mr. Topp for about half an hour on Thursday, after the two met in the parking lot of a shopping center west of downtown Ottawa shortly before noon, where hundreds of people had gathered to see the army reservist.

In a video, Mr. Poilievre is seen reminding Army Topp of a famous quote from John Diefenbaker about being a « free Canadian, » when the Conservative Prime Minister signed the Canadian Bill of Rights in 1960. Mr. Poilievre recalls then his opposition to the vaccination obligation.

When Mr Topp reiterated that he wants reinstatement and compensation for anyone who lost their job because they refused vaccination, Mr Poilievre said: ‘Anyone who lost their job just because of this should get their jobs back, there’s no doubt about that. »

The two men also spoke of the divisions within Canada. According to Mr. Poilievre, “people desperately need hope (…) I think it is time to put this country back together, to heal the wounds and to reunite our country”.

They were then followed by about 200 supporters, many carrying Canadian flags, camouflage backpacks and other gear, as they marched on the sidewalk of a main street for about half an hour before the departure of Mr. Poilievre.

Canada Day

Mr Poilievre’s appearance with Private Topp comes as the candidate in the Tory leadership race has been accused of unapologetically siding with anti-vaccine protesters and other groups associated with the ‘freedom convoy’.

James Topp has previously said he has no intention of leading an occupation of the capital and has urged Ottawa police to work with him to facilitate his planned march through the city to the National War Memorial from Canada.

However, an organizer from a group calling itself « Veterans 4 Freedom » said in a video posted recently on YouTube that he plans to set up a semi-permanent camp in Ottawa called « Camp Eagle », and to organize events in the city all summer long.

While police have since managed to prevent similar protests from taking over the city, it will likely be more difficult this weekend to prevent demonstrations that have gotten out of hand, as there are likely to be thousands of people celebrating the holiday. Canada.

The charges against James Topp relate to two videos posted online in winter in which the reservist, in uniform, criticizes vaccine requirements for military and other federal employees.

Members of the Canadian Armed Forces are strictly limited in the comments they can make in uniform, particularly when it comes to criticizing government policies, largely to protect the military from any perception of politicization.

His lawyer argues that such restrictions should not apply to policies that personally affect members of the Armed Forces.

Ford calls for calm

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said police take their responsibility to keep people safe during Canada Day celebrations « very seriously ».

Ontario Premier Doug Ford called on those planning to demonstrate in Ottawa this weekend to obey the law. He said he was disappointed to see such demonstrations returning to the federal capital. « Honestly, we shouldn’t even be going through this. It’s disappointing, but that’s the way it is. »

Nearly 30 Conservative MPs greeted Private Topp and other convoy figures on Parliament Hill last week. They posed for photos, pledged their support and attended a conference on the alleged dangers of COVID-19 vaccines.

At the same time, Mr. Topp and others raised the specter of civil war when describing the current state of the country.

Mayor Watson promised this week that authorities would “not tolerate any illegal activity by anyone”. Police meanwhile say they are prepared for a number of different scenarios and promise to respond quickly to any illegal activity, including the erection of structures.

In late April, the Ottawa Police Services Board approved a request from Chief Bell to « borrow » up to 831 Royal Canadian Mounted Police officers to assist in certain events. The use of these additional resources remains valid until July 4.

The City of Ottawa warns that vehicles will be towed if found in violation of no stopping and parking rules, although the full extent of the areas that will be affected has yet to be determined.

Many Ottawa residents are still unhappy with the way the City and municipal police handled last winter’s protests. Several community groups have even come together to launch a “citizen survey”.

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