Maxime Bernier released after arrest in Manitoba for violating public health orders

Maxime Bernier, Leader of the People's Party of Canada prepares to speak to the crowd as protesters demonstrate against measures taken by government and public health authorities to curb the spread of COVID-19, in Toronto, Saturday, May 15, 2021. Bernier was arrested in Manitoba Friday, June 11, 2021 for violating public health orders. The Canadian Press

A federal party leader and former member of Parliament has been released, according to his lawyers, after his arrest in rural Manitoba Friday.

People’s Party of Canada Leader Maxime Bernier, who is currently on what he has dubbed the “Mad Max Manitoba Tour,” was holding rallies in several rural Manitoba towns starting Friday and was planning to move onto Winnipeg Saturday.

Read more: Arrest warrant issued in Manitoba for Ontario anti-mask rally organizer Chris Sky

He was arrested Friday afternoon just outside St. Pierre, Man., say Manitoba RCMP.

“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,” said Manitoba RCMP spokesperson Tara Seel.

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“He is charged under the Public Health Act with Contravening a Provision of the Act for assembling in a gathering at an outdoor public place and for failing to self-isolate in accordance with the Order upon arrival in Manitoba. Under the Provincial Offences Act of Manitoba, he was arrested to prevent the continuation of an offence.”

The Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms, serving as Bernier’s lawyers, said the People’s Party leader was released late Friday after a bail hearing.

“Mr. Bernier, who is campaigning in preparation of an anticipated federal election, is obviously entitled to criticize the existing lockdowns and draconian restrictions, and governments which impose them, which have been tyrannically impacting the rights and freedoms of Canadians for 15 months,” said Justice Centre president John Carpay.

The centre says it will represent Bernier in court at the end of July to address two tickets that were issued to him Friday. There is no word on if he will attend rallies scheduled Saturday in La Salle, Lorette and Winnipeg.

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Read more: Coronavirus: Sloan, Bernier, Hillier among ‘end the lockdown caucus’

Bernier, a former federal Conservative who served as a cabinet minister in Stephen Harper’s government, is protesting what he calls “oppressive” lockdowns and vaccine passports.

Before being arrested, he attended a rally in Niverville, Man., where he was ticketed.

In a written statement that did not mention Bernier by name, Manitoba Justice said a Quebec man was arrested for “failing to follow public health orders as a result of unlawful gatherings today in Niverville and St-Pierre-Jolys and to prevent further offences related to attending, participating, and organizing public gatherings throughout the province.”

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A video later posted to Bernier’s Twitter account showed an RCMP officer handcuffing Bernier and asking if he had any weapons.

Read more: Saskatchewan NDP calls for increased fines specifically for ‘freedom rally’ organizers

“Only my words,” was Bernier’s response.

Bernier said on social media that he was warned about being ticketed or arrested if he did not follow Manitoba’s public health orders, which state that outdoor gatherings with more than five people are prohibited and that people entering Manitoba must self-quarantine for 14 days.

Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister was asked about Bernier’s planned tour at an unrelated press conference in Winnipeg Thursday.

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Pallister implied the former Conservative Party of Canada leadership candidate would be fined if his events broke public health orders.

Read more: Manitoba man arrested, fined thousands after meltdown over COVID-19 mask request

“If he’s violating the public health orders he’s going to be light in the pocketbook and I’d suggest that he not violate the public health orders,” Pallister said.

“But of course, I’m not going to be directly involved in the enforcement, nor should I be.”

Winnipeg Mayor Brian Bowman was more blunt, saying, “Mad Max should go back to the Thunderdome.”

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These are not the first rallies Bernier has attended or promoted, and he has been fined in other jurisdictions for attending rallies.

In early May, he was ticketed along with dozens of people in Regina and Saskatoon for violating public health orders at anti-COVID-19 restrictions rallies.

At the end of April, he was spotted at a rally in Peterborough.

Read more: COVID-19: Peterborough police see familiar faces at weekly anti-lockdown protests

Recently, he has visited Edmonton and Vancouver to protest and attended a rally outside the Alberta legislature, and gave an indoor speech in Vancouver, ignoring restaurant restrictions.

On Friday Manitoba’s deputy chief public health officer, Dr. Jazz Atwal, pleaded with Manitobans not to attend rallies like those planned by Bernier this weekend.

Click to play video: 'Manitoba health official explains province’s stricter health measures' Manitoba health official explains province’s stricter health measures
Manitoba health official explains province’s stricter health measures – May 28, 2021

“We are in a dire situation here, we have issues related to case generations, we have issues on the acute care side — we’re sending people out of province to get care,” he said.

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“We understand that the restrictions on people have an impact. But we need to keep those restrictions on, to limit case generation to not overwhelm the care system, which it already has.

“I’d like these individuals who are thinking about not believing in COVID, or attending these rallies to really understand the situation.”

“If you choose to protest, protest virtually, protest with a letter, but by gathering, by getting together, we’re going to cause more problems with case generation, which will have an impact on our acute care system.”

Read more: Manitoba sees busiest week of COVID-19 enforcement, hospitals continue to struggle

Manitoba’s health care system continues to be hit hard by a delayed third wave of the pandemic and the province has had the highest per-capita COVID-19 infection rate in the country in recent weeks.

While daily case counts are dropping from a peak of more than 600 last month, Manitoba is still reporting hundreds of cases a day and a shortage of ICU space has forced the province to send dozens of critically ill COVID-19 patients to neighbouring provinces for care.

-With files from Shane Gibson, Taz Dhaliwal, Greg Davis and The Canadian Press

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