People’s Party of Canada Leader Maxime Bernier is among those found guilty this week of violating COVID-19 pandemic-era public health orders in Regina.
In a pair of trial decisions delivered Thursday, Regina provincial court Judge Murray Hinds convicted a total of nine people, all of whom were charged with failing to comply with a public health order by attending a gathering exceeding 10 people, contrary to the Public Health Act . Three people were acquired.
The trials dealt with alleged offenses from rallies on May 8, 2021 and May 15, 2021. On May 8, Bernier spoke to a crowd in Regina’s Victoria Park during an event billed as a “freedom rally.” The right-wing politician from Quebec donned a Saskatchewan Roughriders jersey for his appearance in the park and was met with cheers from a crowd estimated by the Leader-Post at around 200 people.
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Bernier’s attendance at Saskatchewan rallies was frowned upon by provincial politicians of both major stripes, with then-Health Minister Paul Merriman calling it “very self-serving” and “extremely disappointing.” NDP MLA Nicole Sarauer said such rallies were “the last thing we needed,” and opined that Bernier “and his rhetoric are not welcome here.”
Bernier called tickets for breaking public health orders “illegal” and “unjust,” adding “we will fight that up to the Supreme Court and we will win.”
In Saskatchewan, early tests of arguments to that effect have seen little success.
In relation to the aforementioned trials, arguments were advanced that the gathering limit violated constitutionally-protected freedoms of peaceful assembly and liberty rights. In addition, arguments were made that the public health order was vague and overly broad.
The judge found the Charter and vagueness issues had already decided.
In his decision on those issues, rendered earlier than the trial verdicts, Hinds wrote that it “is it is apparent that the applicants are dissatisfied with the Court’s decisions in these cases. They may wish to appeal these decisions to a higher court. However, they may not religate the issues a second time in this court.”
As for whether the public health order was too broad, Hinds found it was not. With that, the judge was left with the trial evidence, which led to convictions against most of those charged.
Among those convicted alongside Bernier were former political candidate and activist Mark Friesen, as well as Nathan Lynchuk, who was once a Saskatoon police constable. The charges against all three were in connection with the May 8, 2021 gathering.
Friesen has previously been found guilty multiple times for public health order violations relating to his participation in gatherings around the province.
Regina area activist Tamara Lavoie faced charges in relation to both dates, but attended neither trial and had default judgments rendered against her that resulted in two $2,800 fines being imposed. Lavoie’s absenteeism in other public health order proceedings has led to the same outcome.
A date later in May has been reserved for sentencing of those convicted in Thursday’s decisions.
— with files from Lynn Giesbrecht