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COVID-19

Court martial planned for soldier who criticized vaccine mandate, led march to Ottawa

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By Lee Berthiaume in Ottawa

The Canadian soldier who recently led a protest march to Ottawa is now facing a court martial for having spoken out against the federal government’s COVID-19 vaccine requirements while wearing his uniform.

Warrant Officer James Topp was recently notified that he will be allowed to have his case heard in a military court instead of by his chain of command, according to the army reservist’s civilian lawyer.

Phillip Millar says the decision represents a second about-face after the military initially offered his client a court martial when he was charged in February, only to rescind the offer and send his case to Topp’s unit commanders.

“It’s hard to know what they’re doing, because I don’t think they really know what they’re doing,” said Millar. “But now they’re saying it’s a court martial.”

The decision raises the stakes for Topp, according to military law experts, as courts martial are allowed to impose heavier sentences against Armed Forces members than if they are tried by their chain of command in what is known as a summary trial.

Yet it also means he will be allowed to have legal representation at trial, which wouldn’t have necessarily been the case if he was tried by his commanding officer, while his trial will receive much more public attention.

“The stakes are obviously going to be increased in a public-relations context,” said retired lieutenant-colonel Rory Fowler, who is now a lawyer specializing in military law in Kingston, Ont.

The Department of National Defence did not respond to questions about whether Topp’s case was changed from a court martial to summary trial and back again.

Topp was charged in February with two counts of conduct to the prejudice of good order and discipline after the army reservist appeared in uniform in two online videos 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.

Topp, who is now in the process of being released from the military, later led a months-long march from Vancouver that ended in Ottawa last week and was supported by many of the same organizers as this year’s “Freedom Convoy.”

He has since become a symbol of sorts for Canadians opposed to vaccines, vaccine mandates and perceived government overreach. Some Conservative MPs have also hitched their wagon to him, including leadership candidate Pierre Poilievre.

While Millar questioned the military’s back and forth with his client, and said he planned to question the way Topp’s charges were handled, he nonetheless welcomed the latest decision to allow a court martial.

That is because Topp will now be allowed to have a lawyer present during his trial, where Millar said he plans to call expert witnesses to question the need and efficacy of the military’s vaccine requirement.

The requirement imposed by chief of the defence staff Gen. Wayne Eyre late last year remains in place even though a similar mandate for most other federal public servants has now been suspended.

“It opens the door for us to call witnesses about the decision to charge him,” Millar said. “It opens the door for us to call experts on whether or not there was any science behind the mandate.”

While the shift from a summary trial back to a court martial means Topp will be afforded an independent trial with legal representation, Fowler said it also means the army reservist faces potentially stiffer penalties if convicted.

Under a summary trial, commanding officers are largely restricted to handing down reprimands and fines. If he is found guilty by court martial, however, Topp faces the threat of dismissal from the military with disgrace and up to two years in prison.

Retired colonel Michel Drapeau said while there may be a number of reasons why the military opted to change the case from a summary trial back to a court martial, he believed the latter was the appropriate venue for hearing Topp’s case.

“It provides for a trial in an open court with all Charter legal guarantees,” Drapeau said in an email. “It also provides for the provision of free legal support to the member.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published July 5, 2022.

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COVID-19

Public hearings in Emergencies Act inquiry to start in September

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OTTAWA — The inquiry into Ottawa’s unprecedented use of the Emergencies Act during protests in February will start its public hearings next month.

The Public Order Emergency Commission announced today that it expects the hearings to run from Sept. 19 until Oct. 28 at Library and Archives Canada in downtown Ottawa.

Commissioner Paul Rouleau said in a statement that he intends to hold the government to account and wants the inquiry to be as “open and transparent” as possible.

Hearings will be livestreamed online and members of the public will have opportunities to share their views, with a final report expected early next year.

Parties to the inquiry including “Freedom Convoy” organizers, police forces and all three levels of government are expected to testify and contribute documentary evidence on the invocation of the act in February.

The federal Liberals made the move amid border blockades and the occupation of downtown Ottawa by protesters demonstrating against COVID-19 vaccine mandates.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Aug. 15, 2022.

The Canadian Press

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COVID-19

Convoy Lawyer details how trucks were moving BEFORE PM Trudeau invoked Emergency Measures Act

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CBC news is reporting that court documents indicate “On the night before Justin Trudeau took the historic step of invoking the Emergencies Act during last February’s Freedom Convoy occupation of Ottawa, the prime minister’s national security and intelligence adviser told cabinet there was “potential for a breakthrough,” “

This has come to light thanks to court challenges from civil liberties groups who claim the federal government went too far by invoking the Emergencies Measures Act.

Various media outlets are reporting it was unclear whether the truckers would hold up their end of the deal negotiated with the City of Ottawa.  However an interview by commentator Viva Frei with Keith Wilson, lead lawyer for the Freedom Convoy makes it clear, trucks were already moving before the act was invoked.

The link above will take you to the youtube page of Viva Frei for a fascinating full length interview with Keith Wilson who talks about his 19 days in downtown Ottawa during the Freedom Convoy where he lead a team of lawyers representing the leaders of the trucker convoy in their dealings with the police, and the City of Ottawa.

Below is an 18 minute segment of that interview which focusses on the days immediately prior to the invocation of the Emergencies Measures Act.  Wilson details how when tensions were building, he tapped former Newfoundland Premier Brian Peckford who helped to make a critical link to the office of the Mayor of Ottawa.  He goes on to share how the early meetings lead to an agreement to move all the trucks out of the downtown core to Wellington (in front of Parliament Hill), another road nearby, or a couple of areas on the outskirts of Ottawa.  The truckers would then have been bussed daily to Parliament Hill where they could join the ongoing demonstration.

As you’ll see in this video, the trucks were already moving before PM Justin Trudeau invoked the Emergency Measures Act.

 

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