A group of Conservative Party of Canada MPs met with some of the people planning protests in Ottawa this summer, including organizers of the Freedom Convoy that occupied downtown streets earlier this year.
James Topp, a veteran marching across Canada to protest against remaining vaccine mandates, is set to end his journey on June 30 but he drove into Ottawa Wednesday to take part in the meetings.
He was joined by Paul Alexander, a former official in U.S. president Donald Trump's administration, and Tom Marazzo, who served 25 years in the Canadian Forces and had a failed bid as an Ontario MPP candidate.
Marazzo was invited by James Bauder to come and help run the Freedom Convoy during protests in Ottawa earlier this year.
Bauder, who is facing charges in Ottawa and continued to protest in British Columbia after leaving the city in February, is responsible for creating the Canada Unity group and website that helped develop the initial convoy plan to come to Ottawa.
Daniel Bulford, another organizer who helped co-ordinate the Freedom Convoy, was also at the meetings Wednesday.
Bulford is a former RCMP officer who was on the prime minister's security detail before quitting after refusing to get the COVID-19 vaccine. He was the convoy's head of security, and boasted of having strong relations to police agencies.
Taking place in a government building near Parliament Hill, just days after Ottawa suspended vaccine mandates for federal employees and passengers travelling to Canada, Alexander told MPs the "COVID-19 pandemic is over" and criticized what they call "government overreach" — in one instance, blaming lockdowns for the May 24 Uvalde, Texas, school shooting that left 19 kids and two teachers dead.
Topp told the MPs that a number of groups formed out of the Freedom Convoy had come under one umbrella to continue protesting.
"Their issue is not so much with mandates anymore, it's their satisfaction with the federal government," Topp said. "There is a divide in this country I have never seen or experienced before — I've only ever seen it in a war zone."
Topp has been met with support in communities as he travelled across the country, and it's expected many will gather in Ottawa on June 30 to be there when he officially finishes his march. About 20 MPs greeted him in what he characterized as a "well-received" meeting.
"I get that they have busy schedules, I'm sure there are things going on in the background that I'm not aware of, that's their business not mine," he said. "The fact is the ones that showed up here did extend us the courtesy and did recognize what it took to get them in the room."
Cypress Hills-Grasslands MP Jeremy Patzer offered his support to Topp and his group, saying it's a message he has endeavoured to try to get out as well.
"These are just average citizens that have concerns. As members of Parliament, if we are unwilling to hear concerns of the average person, then we are failing to do our job," he said in an interview with CBC.
"I would encourage all members of Parliament regardless of their political striping to be willing to listen and to hear the voices of people like this, because they have a message that they want heard and we've got to be willing to listen to them."
He added he would "meet with anybody who wants to meet with me who has a concern" and said the group does not have extremist views.
"I'm not willing to demonize or accept this narrative that people that have views that other people don't agree with, that they should be demonized for holding those views," he said.
During the convoy earlier this year, some CPC MPs met with protesters parked near Parliament Hill, but others, including the prime minister, did not.
In total, around 20 MPs — all from the CPC caucus — were in attendance Wednesday, including leadership hopeful Leslyn Lewis, Warren Steinley, John Barlow, Ryan Williams, Dean Allison and Arnold Viersen.
Topp said he invited all MPs to attend.