Winnipegger loses court fight to quash ticket for attending People’s Party rally amid pandemic restrictions

A Winnipeg man has lost his bid to have a judge quash a $1,296 fine he received after attending a rally for People’s Party of Canada Leader Maxime Bernier in Winnipeg three years ago in contravention of COVID-19 public health restrictions.

Todd Dube, a Winnipeg business owner and a founding member of the PPC, has one year to pay the ticket he got for attending Bernier’s “Mad Max” rally in Winnipeg in 2021, Manitoba provincial court Judge Weldon Klassen ruled during a hearing Wednesday.

Defence lawyer Kyle Morgan, who called both Dube and Bernier to testify, failed to persuade Klassen that Dube’s attendance at the rally should be considered an exceptional circumstance related to his Charter rights, including the right to free speech and free assembly.

“When I look at the regulations and the court precedent on what would constitute exceptional circumstances, it would have to be something unforeseen, something beyond the individual’s control that contributed to the offence occurring,” Judge Klassen said. “There’s no evidence.”

Dube was among a dozen people ticketed weeks after attending a rally Bernier was slated to attend at the outdoor CN Stage at The Forks, a national historic site in Winnipeg, on June 12, 2021, during the lead-up to the fall federal election.

An anti-restrictions rally was held at The Forks in Winnipeg on Saturday, June 12, 2021. Bernier was scheduled to attend but had already left Manitoba by that point, after being arrested by RCMP the day before. (Ian Froese)

Police photographed Dube that day and weeks later served him with the fine for violating provincial public health orders that limited gatherings to no more than five people at the time, court heard Wednesday.

Dube argued he was targeted due to his political affiliation with the People’s Party and that the laws were arbitrarily enforced. 

“Seems to be an unequal application of the law at the very least, and political persecution,” Dube told court.

Bernier announced ahead of the rally that he was coming to Manitoba.

He was slated to be the keynote speaker at the June 12 rally, but was arrested by RCMP the day before after a rally in St-Pierre-Jolys, south of Winnipeg. He 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, RCMP said at the time.

Bernier was released from custody in the early hours of June 12 and left the province, ahead of the Winnipeg rally.

Last year, Bernier admitted to violating public health orders in in connection with his 2021 Manitoba visits and was ordered to pay $2,000 in fines.

Protest against ‘unconstitutional’ restrictions: Bernier

An investigator with Manitoba Justice’s public safety investigation unit — whose members were redeployed to help enforce pandemic public health orders at the height of the pandemic — testified Wednesday that he and another investigator took photos of Dube and others at the June 12 Winnipeg rally.

Anthony Ford told court that he and his colleague recognized Dube that day.

Dube had previously been interviewed by CBC and other media for his role with the traffic ticket-fighting organization Wise Up Winnipeg.

Ford said Dube and others at the event weren’t complying with health orders related to gathering and mandatory masking. Most in the crowd of 150 were unmasked, he testified.

Dube said he did attend the gathering, but not as a form of protest. He said he was there to see Bernier speak, and once he learned the People’s Party leader was no longer attending, he left.

Bernier testified that Dube was a founding member of the party, a donor and someone with shared values. He told court the purpose of the June 12 rally was to protest “unconstitutional” and “illegal” public health mandates.

The Crown pointed to Bernier’s explanation as evidence the purpose of the rally was connected with protesting COVID-19 orders, and that Dube would’ve known that.

Judge Klassen pointed to an exception to the five-person gathering rule that he said Bernier and organizers of the rally could’ve followed as a workaround.

Manitobans were allowed to gather in vehicles so long as social distancing was maintained, Klassen noted. Some churches held events at the time under that exception. 

“There was no necessity that required [Dube’s] attendance, and as far as the importance of free speech, as I mentioned, there were other ways,” he said.

Outside court, Bernier called the judge’s suggestion “laughable,” and equated the fines and his arrest with “political repression.”

Dube said he had attended other large rallies during the pandemic, including a Black Lives Matter rally at the legislature with thousands in attendance, and questioned why he didn’t get ticketed at those events.

“It is very important to protest,” he said outside court.

“We did mention that today, and apparently it isn’t if you’re me, or if you’re a PPC member, or if you’re in any way running contrary, or seem to be running contrary, to the baseless and arbitrary mandates.”