People’s Party of Canada leader Maxime Bernier was arrested just outside St Pierre on Friday for violating public health orders.
The leader of the far-right party only made it to his second of 10 scheduled events on his so called Mad Max Manitoba Tour through a number of southern Manitoba communities on Friday before being arrested outside of St Pierre around 2:30 on Friday afternoon by St Pierre RCMP.
A former federal Conservative who served as a cabinet minister in Stephen Harper’s government, Bernier’s tour was to have included a stop at The Forks in Winnipeg on Saturday afternoon, as well as one in Winkler on Friday evening, as he was hoping to spread an anti COVID-19 health order message to his followers.
“It is the duty of the RCMP to enforce the laws of Manitoba, and those include public health orders,” RCMP spokesperson Tara Seel said in an email to the Winnipeg Sun.
“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. St. Pierre-Jolys RCMP arrested Mr. Bernier just outside of St. Pierre. 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.
“The RCMP is dedicated to protecting the safety of all Manitobans, and that means working to ensure public health orders are followed.”
Bernier had already received a ticket for violating health orders, when he appeared at his first event in Niverville on Friday.
One local leader who will not be disappointed in the news of the arrest is Mayor Martin Harder of Winkler, where Bernier was scheduled to appear on Friday evening at an event billed as the Winkler Freedom Driving Rally.
Harder did not mince his words on the scheduled appearance Bernier in his community on Friday evening, hours before he was arrested.
“I just want to say to Maxime Bernier, it’s not all about Maxime Bernier,” a clearly frustrated Harder said over the phone Friday morning.
“My concern is only for my community, but this is about creating controversy for us within our own community, and for him to come in here and stir the pot is very unfortunate, because he doesn’t realize the damage he is doing.”
The rally, which was expected to be attended by those with anti-health order and anti-vaccination views, was planned at a baseball diamond in the city of about 15,000 residents that sits 100 kilometers southwest of Winnipeg.
Mayor of Winkler since 2006, Harder said he worried that Bernier’s appearance would have been another black eye for a city he said has already received a lot of bad publicity lately when it comes to the fight against COVID-19.
Information released the first week of June by the province stated that just 25% of Winkler’s adults had received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine. The same study showed that in the neighboring RM of Stanley that rate sat at only 11%.
“As a community lately we have been under the spotlight and we are a target within the health care environment because of vaccinations rates, it becomes an easy way to create controversy,” Harder said.
As controversy swirls outside Winkler’s city limits, controversy and tension have also been brewing within, according to Harder, as he said there is a portion of the population who have voiced strong opposition to COVID vaccinations and health orders.
“What we want is to see the community work together and not work to exasperate that divide in our community that has really taken root and may now take generations to fix,” he said.
“I personally have been involved in trying to change some of the attitudes. I have said ‘be safe, be fair, and if there are guidelines we are asked to follow, then just follow the guidelines.”
Harder said part of the frustration for him is that many who choose not to follow the rules or get vaccinated truly believe they are doing nothing wrong.
“You can’t just have people saying ‘my freedom and the constitution are being violated, so we’re just going to violate every health order there is,’” he said.
The Mayor also admitted he has received many messages online from Manitobans pushing lies about COVID-19 and the vaccines.
“And I say, ‘if you had a gall bladder infection would you go to social media or would you go to the doctor?’ My advice is to follow the information put out by the doctors and the experts.”
Friday’s rally in Winkler was being advertised as a drive-in event, where participants would stay in their cars, but Harder said he had little faith that all health orders would be followed.
Dave Baxter is a Local Journalism Initiative reporter who works out of the Winnipeg Sun. The Local Journalism Initiative is funded by the Government of Canada.