5 Manitobans who flouted COVID-19 restrictions handed fines ranging from $14K to $35K
Defendants showed 'no expression of insight or remorse,' judge says
A Manitoba judge has imposed fines totalling almost $100,000 on five people convicted of repeatedly violating public health restrictions meant to limit the spread of COVID-19.
Patrick Allard, a former candidate in the provincial Fort Whyte byelection and an opponent of COVID-19 restrictions, received the highest total: nearly $35,000.
Allard had received 14 tickets, more than all the others. He also broke the conditions of his release from police custody, unlike the other four.
Amounts for the four other defendants — Church of God (Restoration) pastor Tobias Tissen, Todd McDougall, Sharon Vickner and Gerald Bohemier — ranged from more than $14,200 to nearly $19,000. In total, all the fines added up to nearly $100,000.
All five defendants received multiple fines for repeatedly breaking limits on outdoor public gatherings in 2020 and 2021.
They have "no expression of insight or remorse for their involvement," provincial court Judge Victoria Cornick said Thursday.
"A message must be sent that public health orders … are meant to be respected."
Supporters of the defendants packed the courtroom, with more standing in the hallway outside. The judge thanked those in the room for their patience, saying it is an "emotionally charged" issue.
A loud cheer and clapping erupted from the supporters in the hallway when the defendants left the courtroom, before security officials quieted them.
Speaking to reporters outside the court building, Allard said he felt no remorse for the offences that led to his fines.
"I'm never one to shy away from the truth and what my real feelings are," he said.
Each individual was given multiple fines for offences over a number of months. In each case, Cornick gave a reprimand for the first offence, with progressively higher amounts for subsequent offences. One of Allard's fines was $5,000.
The Crown had asked for fines totalling between $18,000 and $42,000 per person, plus costs and surcharges, because the five had organized and spoken at rallies and urged others not to follow health orders. Defence lawyers asked for reprimands and no fines.
"They weren't breaking windows. They weren't rioting in the streets," Alex Steigerwald, who represented all the defendants except Allard, told the court on Wednesday.
"My clients stood up and protested for something they believed in."
Cornick waived costs and surcharges for all defendants.
They plan to file an appeal to the Court of Queen's Bench, saying the public health orders they were convicted of breaking violated their constitutional rights.
Bohemier, a retired chiropractor, said they want to appeal in order "to make our case as to why the Constitution should have been and probably was … protecting us to be able to speak out like this."
In the meantime, the defendants said, they have no intention of paying the fines imposed on them by the court.
In 2021, Tissen, along with seven rural churches, launched a legal challenge against the province's COVID-19 public health orders, arguing they violated charter freedoms of conscience, religion, expression and peaceful assembly.
In October, Court of Queen's Bench Chief Justice Glenn Joyal ruled the restrictions did not violate those rights.
With files from The Canadian Press