A Canadian soldier accused of speaking out against COVID-19 vaccine demands was warmly welcomed on Parliament Hill on Wednesday, where Tory MPs posed with him for photos before attending a conference on the alleged dangers of inoculations .
The show of support for James Topp came more than a month after the reservist warrant officer was charged with two counts of conduct to the prejudice of good order and discipline for comments made while wearing his uniform in February.
It also came as the Afghan war veteran and his supporters prepare to complete a four-month march from Vancouver to the National War Memorial in Ottawa that began in February at the height of the “convoy of freedom”.
Their expected arrival on June 30 stoked fears of a new round of anti-vaccine and anti-government protests, which rumbled through the capital for weeks until police used force to end what both themselves and the government have described as an illegal occupation.
Such apprehensions didn’t stop a group of Tory MPs from shaking hands, posing for photos and expressing their support for Topp during a meeting on Parliament Hill that was streamed online.
Among them were leadership contestant Leslyn Lewis as well as Dean Allison, Ryan Williams and Alex Ruff.
Topp was driven to Ottawa to meet with MPs on Wednesday and was expected to return to the Deep River region of Ontario to continue his march to the capital in the coming days.
Alongside him were Tom Marazzo, one of the spokespersons for the “Freedom Convoy”, and Paul Alexander, a former adviser to US President Donald Trump who took advantage of Wednesday’s meeting to give a lecture on what he claims be the dangers of COVID-19 vaccines.
For the second time today, Conservative MPs are meeting convoy spokesman Tom Marazzo, convoy security chief Danny Bulford and James Topp, who has just walked to Ottawa.
— Gray Mackenzie (@Gray_Mackenzie) June 22, 2022
According to Health Canada, only vaccines that meet strict standards for safety, efficacy and quality are approved for use in the country, and the benefits of COVID-19 vaccines continue to outweigh the risks of COVID-19. sickness. About 85% of Canadians have received at least one dose.
Topp told MPs he was marching in part to seek the repeal of all vaccination mandates, as well as the reinstatement of anyone who lost their jobs due to such a requirement and compensation for lost wages. .
At the same time, he said his march was about much more than vaccine requirements, which were lifted for most federal public servants this week but remain in place for members of the Canadian Armed Forces.
“One of the things that’s jumped out at me since I started this journey is how many people have come to talk to me (and) their problem isn’t so much with warrants anymore,” he said. he declares.
“It’s their dissatisfaction with the federal government, they view it as intractable, flexible and responsive to their needs.”
As Topp sought to portray his mission and message as non-partisan, Marazzo, one of the leaders of a group known as Veterans 4 Freedom which organized a motorbike convoy in April, told deputies that the Canada was “going down a very dark road”.
“It becomes critical,” Marazzo said. “(Topp) has been in a civil war. I’m not saying that’s what’s going to happen here. But there are a lot of similarities.”
Tory MP Jeremy Patzer noted that only one party was represented at the long council tables around which the group had gathered, telling Topp and the others: “You have allies. You have always had allies.”
Topp also said he had no intention of leading an occupation of the capital and urged Ottawa police to work with him to facilitate his planned march through the city to the National War Memorial. Canada.
However, a Veterans 4 Freedom organizer said in a recent YouTube video that the group plans to set up a semi-permanent camp east of Ottawa called “Camp Eagle” and hold events in the city all summer.
Ottawa police said they are planning an unprecedented security posture for Canada Day, and that they and Gatineau police are preparing other security plans for protests in downtown Ottawa and on Parliament Hill.
While Ottawa Police will protect everyone’s right to protest lawfully and peacefully, an officer told a briefing last week, ‘we will not allow the conditions that led to the unlawful protests in February to happen again’ .
Several Ottawa community groups are calling for an even stronger response to Topp’s arrival next week and any planned “freedom” protests, which they say are linked to right-wing extremism.
“It seems to me that their plan is still to somehow protect the parliamentary precinct, but they kind of let the residential neighborhoods dry out,” said Sam Hersh of Horizon Ottawa.
“I want to see an acknowledgment of what this really is from our city and the relevant authorities: that this is a far-right movement, and that we should take it seriously. And they are not welcome to our city.”
This report from The Canadian Press was first published on June 22, 2022.