And while the group professed peaceful intentions for future demonstrations, they also warned they believe Canada was on a “dark path,” deeply “divided,” even showing similarities to countries about to descend into “civil war.”
The Ottawa press conference was scheduled to coincide with a conference of the “Canada Citizens Coalition,” or C3, an umbrella group for various protesters connected to February’s convoy demonstrations that paralyzed downtown Ottawa and blocked several Canada-U.S. border crossings.
The protests were purportedly sparked by an opposition to federal vaccine mandates for cross-border truckers, but quickly morphed into a festival of grievances with federal and provincial authorities.
The federal Liberal government resorted to an unprecedented invocation of emergency powers to help police to clear the blockade, and is now facing parliamentary scrutiny and a judicial inquiry into that decision.
According to James Topp, one of the organizers who recently walked from B.C. to Ottawa to protest those mandates, the movement is no longer about COVID-19 public health measures. Topp, a 22-year veteran of the Canadian Armed Forces and current reservist, was charged in May with two conduct infractions for speaking out about vaccine mandates while in uniform.
“Their issue is not so much with mandates anymore, it’s their satisfaction with the federal government,” Topp said of the people he met along his march.
“There is a divide in this country I have never seen or experienced before – I’ve only ever seen it in a warzone.”
Wednesday’s press conference was held in the Valour Building, just steps from Parliament Hill, in what appeared to be a House of Commons committee room. It wasn’t immediately clear how the group got access to the room.
But they were greeted by multiple Conservative MPs, including leadership candidate Leslyn Lewis, Jeremy Patzer, Ryan Williams, Arnold Viersen and Dean Allison – among others.
“The reality is there’s one political party that has been represented around this table here today, there’s one political party that has stood up in the House of Commons … and spoke on the position that you guys are here with today,” said Saskatchewan MP Jeremy Patzer.
“You do have allies. You’ve had allies all along, and so I just wanted to encourage you guys going forward.”
A spokesperson for Opposition Leader Candice Bergen’s office said they were aware of the event, but had no hand in helping organize it.
“Conservatives believe Canadians should be free to express their displeasure with the government in a peaceful and lawful manner,” wrote Christopher Martin-Chan, a spokesperson for Bergen’s office, in a statement to Global News.
Topp said the C3 group wants to redress a perceived imbalance between government and citizens, to find a “better balance.”
That was an original goal of early convoy organizers, who suggested they wanted to form a kind of citizens assembly to work with the Senate and the Governor General to repeal public health mandates. The idea was dropped in early February, with organizer James Bauder saying it no longer reflected the broader protest movement’s goals.
“We want to partner with the government of Canada. One way or another, we’ve got to repair this country. It’s a mess,” said Tom Marazzo, who became a key spokesperson for the convoy protests in Ottawa, and a candidate for Derek Sloan’s Ontario Party in the recent provincial election.
“James (Topp) has been to a civil war. I’m not saying that’s what’s going to happen here, but there’s a lot of similarities that are, you know, pre-civil wars around the globe if you look at your history,” Marazzo added.
“We don’t want that here. We’re going down a very dark path in this country. And we need help.”
The C3 group has planned a two-day conference in Ottawa, wrapping up this Friday, for what they’re calling the “Save Canada Summer.” Topp will officially complete his march on June 30 with an event at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.
They’ve also promised rallies every weekend from Canada Day until Sept. 4.
– with a file from The Canadian Press
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