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Maxime Bernier fined $2,000 for violating Manitoba COVID-19 public health orders


People's Party of Canada Leader Maxime Bernier admitted Tuesday to violating COVID-19 restrictions in Manitoba and was fined $2,000 including surcharges.

Bernier was warned, handed tickets and eventually arrested in June 2021 after starting a planned tour of several Manitoba communities where he had scheduled public rallies.

"It was a deliberate choice not to respect the rule of law," provincial court Judge Anne Krahn said in her ruling.

Laws can be challenged in court, Krahn added, but if people could simply ignore ones they don't agree with, the result would be "chaos."

Bernier admitted to two charges under the Public Health Act of violating restrictions on public gatherings as part of an agreement with the Crown. Two other charges of failing to self-isolate upon entering Manitoba were stayed.

At the time, Manitoba had introduced strict limits on many activities as COVID-19 cases surged, hospitals were overwhelmed and dozens of intensive-care patients had been flown to other provinces because of a bed shortage.

Bernier announced plans for a multi-day tour of several communities. He had been given a warning in advance from a provincial public health official not to go ahead with the rallies, an agreed statement of facts submitted in court said.

Bernier attended the first event in Niverville, south of Winnipeg, and was given tickets for the public gathering and failing to self-isolate. He attended a second event in St. Pierre-Jolys and was given two more tickets.

After leaving St. Pierre-Jolys, he was arrested and spent about 12 hours in a cell. He cancelled further events, including a planned large rally in Winnipeg, and left the province.

Bernier's lawyer asked Tuesday for simple reprimands on both charges, while the Crown sought fines totalling $3,300. The judge issued a reprimand on the first charge and a fine on the second charge of $1,296 plus about $700 in surcharges and costs.

Crown attorney Shaun Sass told court Bernier ignored warnings and the seriousness of the pandemic as he planned to continue his tour.

"He has to be arrested and detained by the police and at that point he then stops the Mad Max tour," Sass said.

Bernier addressed the court before the judge handed down the fine and said he was unfairly targeted for enforcement because he was the only person handed tickets at the two rallies he completed.

"I believe that it was political repression. They wanted to make an example and they wanted to be sure that the other point of view (on pandemic restrictions) won't be heard," Bernier told the judge.

Outside court, Bernier told reporters he respects the ruling but felt obligated to fight COVID-19 restrictions.

"When you believe that the legislation is going against the most important legislation in this country -- the foundation of that country, the freedom, our Charter of Rights and our freedom -- I believe you must contest that."

A group of several churches lost a Charter challenge in 2021 against Manitoba's COVID-19 restrictions on public gatherings and religious services. A judge ruled the restrictions were permissible under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms as a response to a public health emergency. The churches took the case to the Court of Appeal where a decision has been reserved.

   This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 16, 2023 Top Stories

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