Canadian Forces veteran James Topp was joined by Conservative Party leadership candidate Pierre Poilievre on his march through Ottawa today, as part of the final leg of his cross-country march to protest COVID-19 vaccine requirements.
Topp’s arrival comes as Ottawa prepares to host the first in-person Canada Day events in three years, and the city braces for possible protests through the weekend and into the summer.
Hundreds of people, including People’s Party of Canada leader Maxime Bernier, gathered on Robertson Road in the west end to greet Topp at 10 a.m. Friday, as he started the walk to Parliament Hill. Supporters were holding Canadian flags and signs supporting Topp and protesting mandates.
Poilievre marched with Topp for two kilometres along Baseline Road just after 12 p.m. Poilievre spoke with Topp at College Square about the walk across Canada.
“I support freedom of choice; I always have and believe people should have the ability to decide for themselves on these matters,” Poilievre told Topp. “We should be free Canadians that can decide what we put in our bodies, decide what we think, decide who we are as people and restore the freedom that brought so many millions of immigrants to this country in the first place.”
Poilieve briefly spoke with CTV News Ottawa’s Jeremie Charron while walking with Topp.
“I think that he is advocating freedom of choice. People should have the freedom to make their own decisions with their own bodies and that’s why, I think, he’s 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 has any thoughts to share with me,” Poilieve said. The Member of Parliament added Topp told him he doesn’t want to disrupt the capital over Canada Day.
Topp is scheduled to arrive at Hog’s Back Park at 1:30 p.m. and will finish his march at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at 6 p.m.
According to the Canada Marches website, Topp is marching for three reasons: Protesting federal government COVID-19 vaccine mandates, supporting Canadians who have been denied access to employment and services or who have lost income due to the mandate and on behalf of those who have been pressured into taking the vaccine.
“We rise to serve Canadians with honesty, respect and compassion, for the purpose of reuniting our people. We do this, with the intention of ensuring our government upholds the laws that support Canada’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms,” says the Canada Marches website.
Speaking on Parliament Hill last week, Topp said a number of groups that formed out of the Freedom Convoy had come together to protest the federal government.
“What I would like to see with the establishment of C3 – the Canadian Citizens Coalition is for us to have further conversations about the way forward, about the way of the future, of what we see Canada being and becoming,” said Topp.
Topp, a 28-year veteran of the Canadian Armed Forces, was charged by the Department of National Defence after publicly speaking out against federal vaccine requirements while in uniform. Topp was charged with two counts of conduct to the prejudice of good order and discipline.
Ottawa police said earlier this week that it was working with Topp and the Canada Marches group to facilitate a safe trip into downtown Ottawa.
“We have been in contact with Mr. Topp and his group and have plans in place to ensure that he can safely and lawfully move from the west end of the city down to the Parliament Hill buildings,” interim chief Bell said on Monday.
Topp arrives as police step up security in the parliamentary precinct and downtown Ottawa in preparation for possible protests over Canada Day. Officers in cruisers, on bicycles and on foot were patrolling a motor vehicle control zone, designed to stop vehicles participating in rallies in protests from driving near Parliament Hill.
“Freedom” groups are planning to hold a series of events and protests in Ottawa on Canada Day.
The groups Police on Guard for Thee, Veterans 4 Freedom and Freedom Fighters Canada are planning a “Freedom Family Picnic” in Strathcona Park on Friday. Topp is scheduled to speak at the picnic.
According to the Twitter account “Live from the Shed” and the Freedom Fighters Canada website, other events planned for Canada Day include a “March to Freedom” starting from Parliament Hill at 3:30 p.m. and speeches, live music and DJs on Parliament Hill from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m.
Premier Doug Ford is calling on anyone attending the protests 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.
MAXIME BERNIER GREETS TOP
Bernier greeted Topp in Bells Corners, and planned to walk the final leg of the journey with the veteran.
In a media release, Bernier said he would also press Poilievre to clarify his stance on COVID mandates.
“He stayed silent for two years, like all the other Conservative MPs,” Bernier said in a statement. “He was watching the polls and checking which way the wind was blowing, while I was holding rallies across the country and getting arrested. And then when it became safe he decided it was time to jump in at a carefully staged photo op during the convoy. He should stop lying about it.”
With files from The Canadian Press
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