Conservative MPs meet soldier charged with criticizing COVID-19 vaccine requirements while in uniform

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Their planned arrival on June 30 has stoked fears of another round of such anti-vaccine and anti-government protests, which snarled the capital for weeks until police used force to end what they and the government described as an illegal occupation. Such misgivings did not keep one group of Conservative MPs from shaking hands, posing for pictures and expressing their support for Topp during a meeting on Parliament Hill that was streamed online. Topp was driven to Ottawa to meet with MPs on Wednesday and was expected to return to the area around Deep River, Ont. Appearing alongside him was Tom Marazzo, one of the spokesmen of the «Freedom Convoy,» and Paul Alexander, a former adviser to U. president Donald Trump who used Wednesday’s meeting to deliver a lecture on what he claims are the dangers of COVID-19 vaccines.

Health Canada says only vaccines that meet strict safety, efficacy and quality standards are approved for use in the country, and the benefits of COVID-19 vaccines continue to outweigh the risks of the disease. Topp told the MPs that he was marching in part to get all vaccine mandates repealed, as well as the reinstatement of anyone who lost their job because of such a requirement and compensation for wages lost. At the same time, he said his march was about much more than vaccine requirements, which were lifted for most federal civil servants this week but remain in place for members of the Canadian Armed Forces. «It’s their dissatisfaction with the federal government, they see it as intractable and flexible and responsive to their needs».

The charges against Topp relate to two videos posted online in the winter in which the army reservist appears in uniform criticizing vaccine requirements for military personnel and other federal employees. Canadian Armed Forces members are severely restricted in the comments they can make while in uniform, particularly when it comes to criticizing government policies, in large part to protect the military from any perception of politicization. While Topp sought on Wednesday to describe his mission and message as non-partisan, Marazzo, one of the leaders of a group known as Veterans 4 Freedom that organized a motorcycle convoy in April, told MPs that Canada was «going down a very dark path». Ottawa police have said they are planning a never-before-seen security posture for Canada Day, and that they and Gatineau police are readying further security plans for demonstrations in downtown Ottawa and Parliament Hill.

While Ottawa police will protect everyone’s right to lawfully and peacefully demonstrate, one officer said during a briefing last week, «we will not allow for the conditions that led to the unlawful protests in February to reoccur». Several Ottawa community groups are calling for an even stronger response to Topp’s arrival next week and any planned «freedom» demonstrations, which they allege are connected to right-wing extremism. «It seems to me that their plan is always to sort of protect the parliamentary precinct, but they sort of just leave residential neighbourhoods there to dry,» said Sam Hersh of Horizon Ottawa.

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Source: LEE BERTHIAUME | THEGLOBEANDMAIL.COM

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