Connect with us

demonstration

Police make arrests after anti-vaccine mandate soldier leads march into Ottawa

Published

11 minute read

OTTAWA — Police arrested four people in downtown Ottawa Thursday after a Canadian soldier charged for speaking out against COVID-19 vaccine requirements led a procession into the city and delivered a speech on “freedom” to a rapt crowd of about 1,200 supporters.

James Topp was charged in February with two counts of conduct to the prejudice of good order and discipline for comments made while wearing his uniform and has since been leading a four-month march to the capital from Vancouver.

His march has been supported by many of the same figures involved in the “Freedom Convoy” that snarled downtown Ottawa for weeks until police used force to end what they and the government described as an illegal occupation.

Cheers and chants of “Freedom!” erupted as he arrived at the National War Memorial on Thursday evening. He knelt, weeping, with his hand on the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier before he spoke to the crowd, thanking them for their support and urging them not to give up.

“I have met thousands of people in my journey from Vancouver to Ottawa and a lot of them have lost hope. They feel lost. They’re angry. They’ve lost faith in the system. We’ve already started something,” he said.

“Heed the call. Assemble. Organize yourselves. Plan. What’s the answer? Non-violence. Peace.”

But not long after Topp’s remarks, police said they were responding to a “situation” in the area and arrested four people over incidents including assaulting officers. Police later said the arrests happened after an interaction with officers “became confrontational and one officer was choked.”

In the immediate aftermath of the arrests, dozens of officers surrounded the war memorial, holding back the crowd. One officer poured water into his eyes as a woman nearby yelled about police using pepper spray. Others heckled police about their “taxpayer-funded” salaries and pensions.

At the same time, however, most members of the crowd continued to mill about happily and peacefully and line up for photographs with Topp. Tourists and families were also wandering by the scene, appearing puzzled as they snapped pictures of the war memorial.

As the sun began to set, fireworks could be heard in downtown Ottawa. Two young women set off firecrackers while officers looked on.

Topp’s arrival in the capital and promises of a new round of protests starting Canada Day have set residents on edge. Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson and the city’s interim police chief, Steve Bell, have promised to crack down on any illegal activity.

Earlier Thursday, Conservative leadership candidate Pierre Poilievre joined the final leg of Topp’s march. Poilievre walked alongside Topp west of downtown Ottawa, where hundreds of people had gathered to see the army reservist.

Video of the meeting shows Poilievre expressing his opposition to vaccine mandates and citing to Topp a famous quote by then-prime minister John Diefenbaker about being a “free Canadian” when he signed the Canadian Bill of Rights in 1960.

When Topp said he wanted reinstatement and reparations for anyone who lost their job because of vaccine mandates, Poilievre replied: “Everybody who lost their job simply because of a COVID mandate should be restored to their job, no question about it.”

The two also spoke about the divisions within Canada, with Poilievre saying: “People are desperate for hope … I think it’s time to put this country back together, and heal the wounds and reunite our country.”

The two were then followed by about 200 supporters, many of them carrying Canadian flags and some sporting camouflaged backpacks and other gear, as they walked down the sidewalk of a major street for about half an hour before Poilievre left.

A few hours later, hundreds of people gathered in a park south of downtown Ottawa for the final stretch to the National War Memorial. A long line of marchers, including at least one wearing a black armoured vest, snaked along the length of the park.

At one point the crowd was treated to a speech by a man wearing a military beret and civilian clothes who denounced defence chief Gen. Wayne Eyre’s order that all Canadian Armed Forces members be fully vaccinated. Members of the crowd booed loudly.

Poilievre’s appearance with Topp comes as the presumed Conservative leadership front-runner has been accused of unabashedly cozying up to anti-vaccine protesters and other groups associated with the “Freedom Convoy.”

Tamara Lich, a leader of the convoy that gridlocked Ottawa in February, briefly appeared in court on Thursday after allegedly breaching one of her bail conditions. Lich, who faces multiple charges including mischief and obstructing police, will remain in custody until her bail hearing on Tuesday.

Many marchers declined to be interviewed, saying they did not trust that their words would not be twisted.

But Ottawa resident Richard Gervais, who was among the hundreds of people marching along the Rideau Canal to downtown Ottawa, called Topp an “inspiration to us all.”

“Here he is, the most peaceful, the nicest, the most decent human being you could possibly ever want to meet, and he’s walking across Canada to make a point,” he added.

Gervais said his adult son was one of the hundreds of federal public servants forced to take leave without pay because he refused to get vaccinated.

While the requirement has since been suspended, “we never know when they’re going to come back,” said Gervais. “And we know that it can come back in the flimsiest of excuses.”

He went on to accuse the World Economic Forum of trying to take away Canada’s sovereignty while questioning the severity of COVID-19 and the efficacy of vaccines. All of these claims have figured prominently in the discourse surrounding the “Freedom Convoy.”

Topp has said he has no plans to lead an occupation of the capital, and invited Ottawa police to work with him to facilitate his march through the city.

However, an organizer for a group calling itself Veterans 4 Freedom said in a recent video posted to YouTube that it plans to set up a semi-permanent camp east of Ottawa called “Camp Eagle” and hold events in the city all summer.

While police have since managed to prevent similar protests from taking over the city, stopping planned demonstrations from getting out of hand during Canada Day is likely to be complicated by the presence of thousands of people celebrating the holiday.

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.

His lawyer has argued such restrictions should not apply to policies that affect Armed Forces members personally.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on Thursday said police are taking their responsibility to keep people safe during Canada Day celebrations “very seriously,” while Ontario Premier Doug Ford called on those intending to protest in Ottawa to respect the law.

More than two dozen Conservative MPs hosted Topp and other leading figures in the “Freedom Convoy” on Parliament Hill last week, posing for pictures, promising their support and listening to a lecture on the purported 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. About 85 per cent of Canadians have received at least one dose.

Topp told the MPs that he was marching in part to get all vaccine mandates repealed, as well as to demand the reinstatement of anyone who lost their job because of such a requirement and compensation for wages lost.

At the same time, he and the others raised the spectre of civil war in describing the state of the country.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 30, 2022.

Lee Berthiaume and Sarah Ritchie, The Canadian Press

Storytelling is in our DNA. We provide credible, compelling multimedia storytelling and services in English and French to help captivate your digital, broadcast and print audiences. As Canada’s national news agency for 100 years, we give Canadians an unbiased news source, driven by truth, accuracy and timeliness.

Follow Author

demonstration

Sri Lankan troops forcefully clear protesters; new PM named

Published on

COLOMBO, Sri Lanka (AP) — Sri Lankan forces violently cleared the main protest camp of demonstrators outraged by the country’s economic meltdown as the newly elected and deeply unpopular president put army troops in the streets of the capital Friday to maintain order.

Security forces were seen beating at least two journalists during the overnight raid, and the bar association said two lawyers were also assaulted — heavy-handed tactics denounced by the opposition, the U.N., and the U.S. The troops moved in even though protesters had announced they would vacate the site on Friday voluntarily.

Unbowed, the protesters vowed to continue their efforts to change their leadership. A crowd rallied for a few hours outside the main rail station, while some people also gathered as close as they could to the former demonstration site outside the presidential office.

Adding to signs that President Ranil Wickremesinghewould not address the concerns of protesters, he chose a prime minister on Friday with close ties to the political establishment that the demonstrators blame for the country’s collapse.

Sri Lankans have taken to the streets for months demanding their leaders resign over an economic crisis that has left the island nation’s 22 million people short of essentials like medicine, food and fuel. After they stormed the presidential palace and other government buildings earlier this month, then-President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, whose family has ruled Sri Lanka for most of the last two decades, fled and resigned.

Wickremesinghe, who had been prime minister, was elevated to president by lawmakers this week — apparently seen as a safe pair of hands to lead Sri Lanka out of the crisis, even though he, too, was a target of the demonstrations. On Friday, he appointed as prime minister a Rajapaksa ally, Dinesh Gunawardena, who is 73 and from a prominent political family.

After his election in a parliamentary vote this week, Wickremesinghe told lawmakers that the people “are not expecting the old politics from us.” But his recent moves signaled an inclination to maintain the status quo.

On Monday, when he was acting president, Wickremesinghe declared a state of emergency giving him the power to change or suspend laws and giving authorities broad power to search premises and detain people. Overnight, just hours after he was sworn in, he issued a notice under the state of emergency calling on the armed forces to maintain law and order nationwide — clearing the way for the move against the protest camp.

The protesters accuse Rajapaksa and his powerful family of siphoning money from government coffers and of hastening the country’s collapse by mismanaging the economy. The family has denied the corruption allegations, but the former president acknowledged that some of his policies contributed to Sri Lanka’s crisis.

Starting at around midnight, army troops and police arrived in trucks and buses to clear the main protest camp near the presidential palace in the capital, Colombo, where demonstrators have gathered for the past 104 days. They removed tents and blocked roads leading to the site.

The Bar Association of Sri Lanka, the main lawyers’ body in the country, said the lawyers who were assaulted had gone to the protest site to offer their counsel.

In all, eight people, including some protesters, were injured, some badly, according to a government official who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to give the information to the media. Eleven people were arrested, he said. They included both protesters and lawyers, according to the Bar Association.

“The use of the Armed Forces to suppress civilian protests on the very first day in office of the new President is despicable and will have serious consequences on our country’s social, economic and political stability,” the Bar Association said in a statement.

The leader of the political opposition, Sajith Premadasa, also denounced the raid.

“A cowardly assault against PEACEFUL protestors, who agreed to vacate the sites today; A useless display of ego and brute force putting innocent lives at risk & endangers Sri Lanka’s international image, at a critical juncture,” he wrote on Twitter.

Hanaa Singer-Hamdy, the U.N. resident coordinator to Sri Lanka, expressed grave concern over the use of force and U.S. Ambassador Julie Chung also expressed concern.

“Actions that stifle protests and the right to peaceful assembly can worsen economic and political instability in Sri Lanka,” Singer-Hamdy said.

Heavy security was present outside the president’s office at midday.

The political turmoil has threatened to make a rescue from the International Monetary Fund more difficult. Still, earlier this week, Wickremesinghe said bailout talks with the fund were nearing a conclusion and talks on help from other countries had also progressed.

The head of the IMF, Kristalina Georgieva, told the Japanese financial magazine Nikkei Asia this week that the fund hopes for a deal “as quickly as possible.”

___

Find more of AP’s Sri Lanka coverage at https://apnews.com/hub/sri-lanka

Krishan Francis, Rafiq Maqbool And Rishi Lekhi, The Associated Press

Continue Reading

COVID-19

Poilievre among those marching with soldier charged for criticizing vaccine mandates

Published on

By Lee Berthiaume in Ottawa

Conservative leadership candidate Pierre Poilievre joined the final leg of a march led by a Canadian soldier charged for speaking out against COVID-19 vaccine requirements that has sparked promises⁠ — and fears — of a new wave of protests in the capital.

James Topp was charged in February with two counts of conduct to the prejudice of good order and discipline for comments made while wearing his uniform, and has since been leading a four-month march to the capital from Vancouver.

His march has been supported by many of the same figures involved in the “Freedom Convoy” that snarled downtown Ottawa for weeks until police used force to end what they and the government described as an illegal occupation.

His arrival in the capital and promises of a new round of protests starting Canada Day have set residents on edge. Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson and the city’s interim police chief, Steve Bell, have promised to crack down on any illegal activity.

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

Video of the meeting shows Poilievre citing to Topp a famous quote by then-prime minister John Diefenbaker about being a “free Canadian” when the latter signed the Canadian Bill of Rights in 1960, before expressing his opposition to vaccine mandates.

When Topp says he wants the reinstatement and reparations for anyone who lost their job because of vaccine mandates, Poilievre said: “Everybody who lost their job simply because of a COVID mandate should be restored to their job, no question about it.”

The two also spoke about the divisions within Canada, with Poilievre saying: “People are desperate for hope … I think it’s time to put this country back together, and heal the wounds and reunite our country.”

The two were then followed by about 200 supporters, many of them carrying Canadian flags and some sporting camouflaged backpacks and other gear, as they walked down the sidewalk of a major street for about half an hour before Poilievre left.

Poilievre’s appearance with Topp comes as the presumed Conservative leadership front-runner has been accused of unabashedly cozying up to anti-vaccine protesters and other groups associated with the “Freedom Convoy.”

Topp has said he has no plans to lead an occupation of the capital, and invited Ottawa police to work with him to facilitate his march through the city to the National War Memorial.

However, an organizer for a group calling itself Veterans 4 Freedom said in a recent video posted to YouTube that it plans to set up a semi-permanent camp east of Ottawa called “Camp Eagle” and hold events in the city all summer.

While police have since managed to prevent similar protests from taking over the city, stopping planned demonstrations from getting out of hand during Canada Day is likely to be complicated by the presence of thousands of people celebrating the holiday.

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.

His lawyer has argued such restrictions should not apply to policies that affect Armed Forces members personally.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on Thursday said police are taking their responsibility to keep people safe during Canada Day celebrations “very seriously,” while Ontario Premier Doug Ford called on those intending to protest in Ottawa to respect the law.

“Folks, be considerate this weekend, you’re going to Ottawa, be considerate. It’s Canada Day, we’re Canadians, just everyone have a good time, a safe time, stay healthy and safe and spend time with your families,” Ford said.

Ford said he is disappointed to see such protests return to the capital.

“I’m all for peaceful protests and you can demonstrate, but no shenanigans this weekend, just be peaceful and let the people of Ottawa enjoy their weekend,” he said.

“Honestly, we shouldn’t even be going through this. It’s disappointing, but it is what it is.”

More than two dozen Conservative MPs hosted Topp and other leading figures in the Freedom Convoy on Parliament Hill last week, posing for pictures, promising their support and listening to a lecture on the purported 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. About 85 per cent of Canadians have received at least one dose.

Topp told the MPs that he was marching in part to get all vaccine mandates repealed, as well as to demand the reinstatement of anyone who lost their job because of such a requirement and compensation for wages lost.

At the same time, he and the others raised the spectre of civil war in describing the state of the country.

“We won’t be intimidated by any group that plans to disrupt the celebrations,” Mayor Jim Watson said during a briefing earlier this week. “We’re prepared and we will not tolerate any illegal activity by anyone.”

Bell said police are prepared for a number of different scenarios, and will respond quickly to any illegal activity, including efforts to set up structures such as stages.

In late April, the Ottawa Police Services Board approved a request from Bell to appoint up to 831 RCMP officers to help with the Rolling Thunder motorcycle events, and made those appointments valid until July 4.

The city is warning that vehicles will be ticketed and towed if they’re found violating no-stopping zones, although the full extent of the areas that will be off limits has not been determined.

Many Ottawa residents remain angry at how the city and police handled the “Freedom Convoy” protests, with several community groups banding together to launch a citizens’ inquiry into how that protest was handled.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 30, 2022.

Continue Reading

Trending

X