People's Party of Canada Leader Maxime Bernier arrested by RCMP in Manitoba
Bernier attended rally against COVID-19 restrictions held in southern Manitoba village
People's Party of Canada Leader Maxime Bernier was arrested after appearing at a sparsely attended rally against COVID-19 restrictions in a southern Manitoba village on Friday afternoon.
Radio-Canada's Laïssa Pamou, who was covering the event, said the rally in St-Pierre-Jolys, which is about 57 kilometres south of Winnipeg, saw no more than 15 people in attendance. After the event ended, Bernier got into a vehicle to head to a rally in nearby St. Malo, another small, rural community.
That's when he was pulled out of the vehicle by Mounties who handcuffed him and put him in the back seat of an RCMP vehicle.
Bernier spoke to Radio-Canada shortly before he was detained and said he got a ticket for violating public health orders at a rally in the nearby town of Niverville earlier Friday. He did not say how much he was fined — just that he planned to fight it.
An RCMP spokesperson confirmed Bernier was ticketed earlier in the day.
"It is the duty of the RCMP to enforce the laws of Manitoba, and those include public health orders. Mr. Bernier knew of the health orders and has already received a ticket. The continuation of the offence of violating the current public health orders in Manitoba has resulted in his arrest," Tara Seel said in an email.
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Bernier was charged under the Public Health Act for assembling in a gathering at an outdoor public place and for failing to self-isolate once he got to Manitoba, and he will appear before a magistrate, Seel said.
Bernier was released Friday evening on the condition he abide by public health orders while he is in Manitoba, RCMP Sgt. Paul Manaigre said in a statement.
Manitoba Justice would not say when he might appear before the magistrate, as his case is now before the courts.
The penalties section of Manitoba's Public Health Act states the maximum sanction is a $100,000 fine, one year in jail or both.
Bernier had announced a tour of southern Manitoba this weekend that was set to include several stops at anti-lockdown rallies in spite of pandemic restrictions banning large events and requiring people to self-isolate when entering the province if they're not fully vaccinated.
Bernier's appearances in Niverville and St-Pierre-Jolys were the first two rallies listed on an itinerary posted on Facebook that was supposed to see him stop in the rural cities of Morden and Winkler later Friday.
He was also scheduled to appear in the communities of La Salle and Lorette, as well as in Winnipeg on Saturday, then in the cities of Steinbach and Selkirk on Sunday, according to the itinerary.
Rights violated, party claims
People's Party of Canada spokesperson Martin Masse said in a statement Bernier was "wrongfully arrested" on charges that violate his charter rights.
"This isn't about COVID anymore. It's political repression. This is the kind of stuff countries like China and Russia do," Masse said.
The Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms said in a news release that it will appear in court on Bernier's behalf.
The Calgary-based organization has also been involved in challenges of lockdown measures across the country, including one in Manitoba that saw seven churches take the province to court over its pandemic powers. No decision has been issued yet in that challenge.
A provincial spokesperson previously told CBC News that the province was aware of Bernier's planned rallies and would be conducting surveillance to gather video and other evidence.
At a news conference on Thursday morning, Premier Brian Pallister said Bernier would be "light in the pocket book" if he planned on violating Manitoba's public health orders.
With files from Laïssa Pamou