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Conservative leadership hopeful Patrick Brown takes part in the Conservative Party of Canada French-language leadership debate in Laval, Que., Wednesday, May 25, 2022.Ryan Remiorz/The Canadian Press

Conservative leadership candidate Patrick Brown is expressing concern that Tory MPs met this week with a Canadian soldier facing military charges for speaking out against COVID-19 vaccine mandates while in uniform as well as a spokesman for the convoy that blockaded Ottawa in the winter.

Mr. Brown said he hoped MPs received guarantees that the convoy members would obey the law with their coming activities before agreeing to the meeting.

He said he is not afraid to listen to any perspective. “But I would seek assurances that the methods the group planned to use, including whatever plans they have for Canada Day, comply with the law and other people’s freedoms. With that established, a dialogue can begin,” the mayor of Brampton, Ont., said Thursday in a statement.

“That would be my condition for any meeting.”

Mr. Brown said dialogue is a “two-way street” because it’s important that elected representatives listen to aggrieved and marginalized Canadians, but also important to note that everyone’s freedom to protest ends when that impedes the freedom of others, as last winter’s illegal blockades did. Protests over vaccine mandates led to trucks parked throughout the streets of downtown Ottawa, limiting movement and distressing residents with horn honking.

On Wednesday, almost two dozen Conservative MPs welcomed James Topp to Parliament Hill, posing for pictures with the reservist warrant officer and his supporters, and then remaining for a lecture on the purported dangers of inoculations.

Mr. Topp, a 22-year veteran of the armed forces who is now a reservist, has been charged with two conduct infractions for speaking out about vaccine mandates while in uniform. In February, he began a march with supporters from Vancouver to the National War Memorial in Ottawa.

Mr. Topp was driven to Ottawa for Wednesday’s meeting, and then returned to continue his march. An expected June 30 arrival has prompted fears among police and residents of a new round of anti-vaccine and anti-government protests.

Also present for Wednesday’s meeting was Tom Marazzo, a spokesperson for the convoy protests, as well as Paul Alexander, a former adviser to ex-U.S. president Donald Trump, who delivered a lecture on what he called the dangers of COVID-19 vaccines.

A spokesperson for former Quebec premier Jean Charest, another leadership candidate, said he supported meeting with Canadians who have concerns to discuss.

“It is appropriate for Members of Parliament to meet with Canadians and listen to their frustrations. It’s part of their job,” said Michelle Coates Mather. “It’s also their role to defuse these frustrations by offering solutions so we can avoid another blockade.”

Ontario MP Leslyn Lewis, another leadership candidate, defended the meeting with Mr. Topp.

“As a veteran who has sacrificed for his country, and then walked over four thousand kilometres in order to speak with elected officials, I think it was the very least we could do to sit down and hear his concerns,” Ms. Lewis said in a statement.

“Whatever you think about the current state of freedom in Canada, if everyone cared as much as James Topp did, we would be a better country.”

The other leadership candidates are Ontario MPs Scott Aitchison and Pierre Poilievre as well as former Ontario legislature member Roman Baber. They didn’t respond to requests for comment Thursday.

Christopher Martin-Chan, a press secretary in the office of interim Conservative leader Candice Bergen, said she did not meet with or communicate with the organizers or participants in the meeting.

Mr. Topp said, as he walked Thursday into the town of Petawawa about 165 kilometres from Ottawa, that he had e-mailed all MPs, and only the Conservatives replied, leading to the meeting.

“I’ve been walking 125 days to leverage that meeting,” he said.

Mr. Topp said he used the meeting to talk about his concerns, noting that vaccines are less a concern for him than the government mandating them. He said the Conservatives attending the meeting seemed supportive.

Vaccine mandates remain in place for members of the Canadian military though they have been lifted for other public servants.

On Thursday, NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh raised questions about the propriety of the meeting.

“I meet with people that I disagree with regularly. It is something that we should do. We should hear from people that we don’t agree with. That’s an important thing to do,” Mr. Singh told journalists. But he said he was concerned about elected officials supporting “clearly false things” such as the view that vaccination is dangerous.

With a report from The Canadian Press

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