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Court Martial Imposes $4,000 Fine on Military Veteran for Protesting Vaccine Mandates

A military court has handed down a $4,000 fine and a “severe reprimand” to James Topp, a veteran who protested against vaccine mandates and walked across Canada for the cause.

Military Judge Commander Julie Deschênes delivered her ruling in New Westminster, B.C., on Nov. 16, after hearings took place over the two previous days.

Mr. Topp pleaded guilty to two counts of prejudice to good order and discipline on Nov. 14, in relation to two videos he made on or around Feb. 12, 2022.

At the time, protests against COVID-19 restrictions were taking place across Canada, including the Freedom Convoy in Ottawa.

Mr. Topp, who held the rank of warrant officer, made the videos in Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) dress uniform and said the state should not decide what goes into his body. He recognized in his videos he was breaching regulation by speaking out in uniform and said he would take responsibility for his actions.

A few days after posting his videos online, Mr. Topp left Vancouver on foot to protest against the mandates and reached Ottawa on June 30, 2022.

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The prosecution recommended a “severe reprimand” and a $5,200 fine, while the defence sought an absolute discharge.

Judge Deschênes said an absolute discharge would be contrary to the public’s interest and that Mr. Topp had to bear the consequences of his actions. She said the sentence should serve the objective of “general deterrence and denunciation.”

“What this means is that I must impose a punishment that would send a strong message for others to be deterred” from following the example of Mr. Topp, she said.

Judge Deschênes said the case was not about personal views on vaccine mandates or Mr. Topp’s march across Canada.

“It is rather about the commission of two offences for making statements that were opposed to the Government of Canada policy,” she said.

The prosecution had argued that what Mr. Topp did was “getting very close to the legal definition of a mutiny,” but the judge disagreed.

“On the point of your conduct amounting to a mutiny, I did not see or hear anything mutinous in your statements,” she said.

The judge also did not give weight to some of the information submitted by Lieutenant-Colonel Greg Chan, the commanding officer of the Royal Westminster Regiment, Mr. Topp’s last unit in the CAF.

Lt.-Col. Chan wrote in a “military impact statement” submitted as evidence in the court martial that Mr. Topp was responsible for retention and recruitment issues in his unit.

Judge Deschênes said that while Mr. Topp’s “conduct may have detrimentally influence recruiting, as stated by the unit [commanding officer], the evidence I was provided did not clearly establish a causation link between your conduct and the issue of recruiting.”

Attorney Philip Millar, who represented Mr. Topp, said the judge gave a “well-reasoned decision.”

“What I could tell is that she respected Warrant Topp,” Mr. Millar said in an interview, adding that other soldiers at the armoury where the trial was held also appeared supportive of him.

He said the judge believed a fine was necessary to preserve good order and discipline, and “that reasoning is something I think even Warrant Topp understands and accepts.”

With regards to the “severe reprimand” handed down, Mr. Millar explained it will go on a conduct sheet, but since Mr. Topp was expelled from the CAF for not complying with the vaccine mandate, it will not affect him.

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