Manitoba pastor Tobias Tissen, 4 others convicted for breaking COVID-19 gathering restrictions

Five Manitobans have been convicted of repeatedly violating COVID-19 public health orders.

Tissen, Patrick Allard, Todd McDougall, Sharon Vickner and Gerald Bohemier admitted to breaking limits

A man in sunglasses stands behind two women wearing buns in their hair and long, pleated skirts.
Tobias Tissen, minister at the Church of God Restoration, is seen leaving court in Winnipeg on Wednesday. He was arrested in October of last year on an outstanding warrant for violating public health orders. (Jeff Stapleton/CBC)

Five Manitobans have been convicted of repeatedly violating COVID-19 public health orders.

Tobias Tissen — a pastor at the Church of God Restoration near Sarto, Man., in the rural municipality of Hanover — and Patrick Allard, an opponent of COVID-19 restrictions who ran in a byelection for the provincial Fort Whyte seat earlier this year, were among the five people who admitted to breaking limits on outdoor public gatherings in 2020 and 2021.

"I can't put into words how disappointed and insecure I feel in Canada," Tissen said.

On Wednesday, provincial court Judge Victoria Cornick convicted Tissen and Allard — along with Todd McDougall, Sharon Vickner and Gerald Bohemier — based on a statement of facts agreed to by their lawyers.

Surrounded by a full courtroom of supporters, plus a few in the hallway, the five people received the judge's ruling.

Crown attorney Shaun Sass is seeking fines of between $18,000 and $42,000 for each of the five, depending on the number offences they committed, plus court costs and surcharges.

Sass said the fine has to be high enough so that is not simply a "licensing fee for breaking the law," but instead serves as a deterrent.

The Crown says the five not only repeatedly broke health orders, but organized events at which they encouraged others to do so as well.

Critics of Manitoba's pandemic restrictions rally outside the Winnipeg Law Courts on Monday, May 3, 2021, the first day of a hearing in a legal challenge of Manitoba's COVID-19 pandemic health restrictions. Tissen, along with seven rural churches, launched the legal challenge against the lockdown measures. In October, the court ruled the restrictions were not a violation of charter rights. (Cameron Macintosh/CBC)

Defence lawyer Alex Steigerwald, who represents four of the five, said the Crown's proposed fines would be unduly harsh and crushing.

He asked the judge to impose a reprimand, which would not involve any fines. If fines are to come, he said, they should not be high.

"They weren't breaking windows. They weren't rioting in the streets," Steigerwald told court. "My clients stood up and protested for something they believed in."

He asked his clients be given seven years to pay back any fines incurred.

Cornick reserved her decision until Thursday morning.

Previous court challenge

Allard and McDougall have said they plan to appeal to a higher court, where they hope to challenge the public health orders under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

Tissen told the court he felt he was "muzzled" and couldn't talk about the constitutional rights he and people of like mind feel are being denied them.

In 2021, Tissen, along with seven rural churches, launched a legal challenge against the province's COVID-19 public health orders, arguing they violated the charter freedoms of conscience, religion, expression and peaceful assembly. In October, the court ruled the restrictions did not violate those rights.

Allard's defence lawyer Kyle Morgan is also asking for the judge to impose a reprimand rather than fines, and for his client to be given as long as 10 years to pay back any fines, since the Crown recommended he be fined more than $42,000.

Allard has received 14 tickets for breaking public health orders, more than the other four. He also broke the conditions of his release from police custody, unlike the other four.

He told the court he didn't think he was breaking the conditions of his bail because police were facilitating the two rallies where he was ticketed.

"The extent of my criminality was greeting people with handshakes and hugs," he told the court.

5 Manitobans convicted of repeatedly violating COVID-19 public health orders

3 months ago
Duration 1:00
Five Manitobans have admitted to repeatedly breaking COVID-19 public health orders. Tobias Tissen and Patrick Allard are among those in court today for a sentencing hearing in Winnipeg.

With files from the CBC's Rachel Bergen