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BC reservist who challenged vaccine mandate handed $4K fine, severe reprimand

A former soldier and reservist who defied the Canadian Armed Forces’ COVID−19 vaccine mandate has been fined $4,000 and received a severe reprimand at the conclusion of a court martial in British Columbia.

Warrant Officer James Topp pleaded guilty to two charges of conduct to the prejudice of good order and discipline in relation to two videos he posted to social media, criticizing the military’s vaccine policy while in uniform.

Military judge Cmdr. Julie Deschenes told the court martial on Thursday that the sentence is fair and fit, noting that Topp took responsibility for his actions and is taking steps to get his life in order.

She said she believed Topp was in a state of despair in February 2022 when he made the videos and embarked on public protests.

The judge said Topp knew he was defying the military and federal government in refusing the vaccine and was prepared to accept the consequences.

"You wanted others to see you and hear your message," she said. "You testified you knew exactly what you were doing and why."

<who> Photo credit: Canadian Press

However, she said she didn’t hear anything "mutinous" from Topp and even suggested that one day he try to enrol again in the military.

Topp, 52, is a reservist and former Armed Forces soldier with more than 30 years of service in multiple deployments to Croatia, Afghanistan and other war zones.

He told the court martial this week that he was close to suicide in November 2021 after being suspended from his federal public service job with the RCMP over his anti−vaccine stance.

Topp said he has since returned to work.

Deschenes said the case was not about personal views and positions regarding the COVID−19 vaccine, but about Topp’s breach of his duties as a member of the military.

"You have admitted that making the broadcasts and the statements as a member of the CAF (Canadian Armed Forces) in uniform was wrong," she said. "Now you face the consequences."

Topp told the court martial earlier that he knew there would be consequences for his actions but he decided to publicly speak out against the vaccine mandates.

It culminated in the posting of the videos and undertaking a months−long march to Ottawa.

He said he believed the federal government’s vaccine mandates were coercive and imposed in haste.

Deschenes said her sentence took into consideration the six character reference letters from people outside the military, including his sister, but none of his military superiors provided a character reference.

"I do not know why I did not receive such evidence. This is very unfortunate."

She said more character evidence would have provided her with more objective evidence in determining the sentence.

"You are a well−seasoned military man with a wealth of military service," she said.

His maximum punishment would have been dismissal with disgrace.

Topp’s civilian lawyer, Phillip Millar, told the court before sentencing that his client should be granted an absolute discharge from the military or the "lowest fine possible."

Prosecutor Major Ben Richard had asked the judge to impose a severe punishment for Topp’s use of his military rank and uniform to publicly challenge the Forces’ vaccine mandate.

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