Unrepentant pandemic health-order violators await sentencing Convicted quintet organized, attended or spoke at anti-lockdown rallies

Five Manitobans arrested after they repeatedly violated pandemic gathering restrictions told a judge Wednesday they were fighting against a campaign of “government overreach” that robbed them of their most basic rights.

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Five Manitobans arrested after they repeatedly violated pandemic gathering restrictions told a judge Wednesday they were fighting against a campaign of “government overreach” that robbed them of their most basic rights.

“I think history will look back at us again and realize we were right,” Patrick Allard told provincial court Judge Victoria Cornick near the end of a day-long sentencing hearing.

Retiree and COVID-19 lockdown opponent Gerry Bohemier, Hugs over Masks organizer Sharon Vickner, anti-lockdown rally organizers Todd McDougall and Allard and Church of God (Restoration) pastor Tobias Tissen were individually charged for repeated violations of public health orders involving outdoor gatherings between November 2020 and May 2021.

All five admitted to committing the offences in agreed statements of facts provided to court. Cornick convicted the five co-defendants of 50 counts of violating the Public Health Act. The five organized, attended or spoke at anti-lockdown rallies in Winnipeg, Steinbach and Winkler.

ETHAN CAIRNS / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

Patrick Allard (right) and lawyer Kyle Morgan and leave the Law Courts building on Wedneseday.

Allard, who was ticketed a total of 14 times, told court he had never participated in a protest in his life before he watched his wife’s 91-year-old grandmother die alone as a result of pandemic restrictions.

“None of these events were taken lightly,” he said. “I spoke for people who may have not had a voice… I will always continue to speak up for the little guy.”

Prosecutor Shaun Sass recommended Cornick fine the five a total of more than $125,000 — ranging from $18,000 to $42,000 individually, depending on offences — arguing the financial penalty for breaching the health orders “must be of such an amount that they do not simply turn into a licensing fee for breaking the law.”

“These orders were put in place to protect the physical, economic and social welfare of the public and society at large,” Sass said. The five “encouraged others to violate COVID prevention orders, doing so despite the fact that they were being ticketed repeatedly, doing so despite COVID getting worse. The offenders were doing this even… when dozens of critically ill patients had to be flown to Ontario for treatment because our health-care system was on the verge of collapse.”

ETHAN CAIRNS / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

Patrick Allard (right) and Tobias Tissen (centre) were convicted Wednesday of numerous counts of violating the Public Health Act.

Defence lawyers Alex Steigerwald and Kyle Morgan urged Cornick to consider a reprimand, arguing their clients had already been subjected to an overnight stay in jail and a prolonged period on bail, and Vickner and McDougall had both lost their jobs during the pandemic.

“The idea that they would be arrested and detained for protesting, it is something that will have a lasting effect on them moving forward,” Steigerwald said. “This is an exceptional moment in society during a period of unprecedented restrictions.”

Court heard Tissen’s family immigrated to Canada when he was a child after they were denied the right to home-school in Germany. Tissen told court he is once again being denied his basic rights.

“I can’t put into words how disappointed and insecure I feel in Canada, once known for freedom and protection for all, to find refuge from oppression faced in other countries.”

Bohemier, a retired chiropractor and “natural health” proponent, told court he felt it was his duty to inform the public about the “weaknesses of the medical community,” the danger of rushing to approve vaccines against COVID-19 and the “uselessness” of wearing a mask.

“I was very disappointed in what has happened in Canada the past three years,” he said. “This is not the country I was born into.”

MIKAELA MACKENZIE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS FILES

'I think history will look back at us again and realize we were right,' Patrick Allard told a judge Wednesday.

Wednesday’s hearing was crowded with supporters, including a man wearing a “Freedom Convoy” jacket who was escorted out of court after questioning a Sheriff’s officer about what jurisdiction the hearing was being held under.

Another woman, speaking to a friend seated in court, suggested the proceeding was “corrupt.”

“Public health orders — that’s who should be on trial here: public health officials,” the woman said.

After court broke for lunch, supporters shouted “freedom” as they gathered outside around a hotdog cart.

Cornick will sentence the group Thursday morning.

deanpritchard@freepress.mb.ca

ETHAN CAIRNS / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

Patrick Allard (right) speaks to Tobias Tissen as they leave the Law Courts on Wednesday.
Dean Pritchard

Dean Pritchard
Courts reporter

Someone once said a journalist is just a reporter in a good suit. Dean Pritchard doesn’t own a good suit. But he knows a good lawsuit.

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Updated on Wednesday, August 24, 2022 7:16 PM CDT: typo fixed

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