WINNIPEG — A judge has handed fines to five Manitobans who repeatedly violated COVID-19 pandemic public health orders over a period of months — even after they were given tickets for each offence.
It was the second courtroom loss in a year for people trying to overturn restrictions the Manitoba government imposed.
"A message must be sent that public health orders … are meant to be respected," provincial court Judge Victoria Cornick said during her sentencing Thursday.
"Receipt of multiple tickets did nothing to deter the actions of any of these individuals. … Their involvement spanned months and were not isolated incidents."
Tobias Tissen, Patrick Allard, Todd McDougall, Sharon Vickner and Gerald Bohemier organized and spoke at anti-restriction rallies in 2020 and 2021 that exceeded limits on public gatherings at the time.
The Crown had asked for fines of between $18,000 and $42,000, plus costs and surcharges, based on the number of convictions of each individual. Defence lawyers had asked for no fines and said their clients had been punished enough by spending a short time in jail after the tickets piled up.
Cornick imposed slightly lower fines than the Crown sought, ranging from $14,000 to just under $35,000. She also allowed seven years for payment and waived costs and surcharges, citing the financial position of each defendant.
Cornick said the five showed no signs of remorse for their actions and mistakenly believed that they could not follow public health orders that were, at the time, being challenged in another case.
"The Public Health Act and orders made pursuant to it were and are in place to protect the health and safety of the people of Manitoba," she said.
"The fact that a law, or restriction in this case, is being litigated does not automatically suspend its application."
Outside court, there were few signs of regret among the five.
"My only regret was that I didn't go harder and I wasn't louder," Allard, who owns a home renovation company, said of his fight.
"I would say the community surrounding us … continues to grow," Todd McDougall, a citizen journalist, said.
Tissen, a pastor at a rural church southeast of Winnipeg, declined to comment outside court. He spoke briefly with a man dressed up as the Grim Reaper who celebrated the convictions and fines.
The five plan to appeal to a higher court, where they hope to have the public health orders declared a violation of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
A similar attempt was made last year by a group of churches. The Court of Queen's Bench ruled against them and upheld the public health orders. That ruling is being appealed in a hearing set for December.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Aug. 25, 2022.
Steve Lambert, The Canadian Press