Wed. Aug 10th, 2022

OTTAWA — Ahead of a Canada Day weekend expected to reignite elements of this winter’s convoy demonstration, a top Conservative leadership contender joined forces with an army veteran marching to the capital to protest government overreach and vaccine mandates.

Pierre Poilievre, the presumptive front-runner of the leadership race, walked side by side with James Topp on Thursday, as the army reservist completed a four-month trek from Vancouver to Ottawa.

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. He has also appeared on the Raging Dissident podcast, which is hosted by Jeremy MacKenzie, a veteran facing 13 firearms-related charges and who the Canadian Anti-Hate Network has dubbed the leader of the anti-government and far-right group Diagolon.

Topp’s march has been supported by many of the same figures involved in the so-called “Freedom Convoy” that snarled downtown Ottawa for weeks – with days of constant honking and reports of harassment associated with the protesters – until police used force to end what they and the government described as an illegal occupation.

Amid a backdrop of Canadian flags, honking horns and other protesters, Poilievre chatted with Topp in the capital’s west end as the former Canadian Forces member headed toward the National War Memorial in the downtown core.

Poilievre said he was aligning himself with Topp because “people should have the freedom to make their own decisions with their own bodies,” according to footage captured by CTV.

“That’s why I think he walked across the country and that’s why I thought I would give him a greeting and give him a hearing and see if he had any thoughts to share with me, as one of the representatives of the people,” Poilievre said .

The leadership candidate said he had assurances Topp and those marching were not seeking to “disrupt people.”

On his website Canada Marches, Topp says he is journeying to the capital for three reasons: to protest federal rules that require COVID-19 vaccination for employment, to speak on behalf of anyone denied jobs or services because of “the imposition of a medical procedure , ”And to advocate for people who have been“ pressured ”into procedures due to the“ introduction of false constructs surrounding choices and consequences. ”

Many of the vaccine mandates imposed by the federal government at the start of Topp’s march have since been suspended; on June 20, Ottawa scrapped those requirements for outbound air passengers, rail travelers, federal employees and other federally regulated workers. Members of the Canadian military are still required to be fully vaccinated.

Two days after that policy came into effect, Topp was welcomed by a group of Conservative MPs within the parliamentary precinct. He was joined by “Freedom Convoy” spokesman Tom Marazzo and Paul Alexander, a former official under US President Donald Trump.

Among the group of MPs was leadership hopeful Leslyn Lewis. Poilievre did not participate in the meeting.

At the time, Marazzo likened the current political divisions in Canada to a “pre-civil war” scenario, while Saskatchewan Tory MP Jeremy Patzer suggested to the trio they had “allies” within the party.

Poilievre posted about his walk with Topp on Twitter late Thursday afternoon.

“End all mandates. Restore our freedoms. Let people take back control of their lives, ”he wrote.

People’s Party of Canada Leader Maxime Bernier also marched with Topp earlier in the day. In a news release, Bernier said he hoped to “press” Poilievre on clarifying his stance on mandates, though the pair did not appear to cross paths during the march.

With files from the Canadian Press

Raisa Patel is an Ottawa-based reporter covering federal politics for the Star. Follow her on Twitter: @R_SPatel


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