Former Canadian soldier James Topp pleaded guilty in military court to a maximum punishment of dismissal with disgrace for protesting the federal government’s Covid-19 vaccine mandate.

On Tuesday, Topp pleaded guilty to two counts of conduct to the prejudice of good order and discipline at the onset of his court martial in New Westminster, B.C.

In February 2022, while serving as a warrant officer, Topp criticized the Canadian Armed Forces’ (CAF) vaccine mandate for military  and civilian members. 

The prosecution chose to withdraw two additional charges against Topp for improperly wearing his uniform, following Topp’s plea of not guilty at the beginning of the proceedings. 

The veteran was charged as a result of two videos posted to social media wherein he’s seen in the uniform of the Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry, a unit which he’d previously served under, criticizing the vaccine mandate.

Topp began marching across Canada from Vancouver to Ottawa in protest of the mandate and became a symbol of hope for Canadians who opposed the mandate and government overreach. 

He was joined by many other Canadians for sections of his march across the country, much of which was live streamed. 

On the last leg of his march through Ottawa, Topp was accompanied by Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre while he was still running for leadership of the party. Poilievre said at the time that he supported Topp’s advocacy for personal freedom and bodily autonomy. 

In 1990, Topp joined the CAF’s regular forces and over his career had been deployed to Afghanistan, Bosnia and Macedonia, before being transferred to the army reserves in 2019. 

Judge Catherine Julie Deschenes was informed that Topp had previously attended Covid-19 briefings regarding the military’s vaccine policy but had failed to confirm his own vaccine status.

Lt.-Col. Greg Chan, one of Topp’s commanding officers as a reservist, told the court that Topp’s conduct tarnished the image of the military and set a poor example for his fellow soldiers.

The videos of Topp were investigated by master warrant officer Christopher Baird Hennebery after they were posted on TikTok and Youtube. 

He testified in court that he was disappointed to see such a highly decorated soldier going against the public health measures of the government. 

“Based on the production value, he was becoming a tool of people who were already putting a lot of stress on our society when our society was already going through a huge medical crisis,” testified Baird Hennebery.

Additionally, he testified that the videos also “created a huge problem with morale within the Canadian Armed Forces.” 

Topp also took the stand despite pleading guilty to give an emotional testimony about the rationale behind his decision to speak out against the vaccine mandate publicly. He cited his mental health during the pandemic as one of the determining factors. 

“I had a very hard time with it because of the way that I felt that it was coercive, that it was done in haste and I felt that it was going to open the door on other practices that were going to just inhibit the way we live our lives,” said Topp.

Topp’s refusal to confirm his vaccine status led to a temporary suspension without pay from his job as a facilities manager at the RCMP’s Pacific Region Training Centre is Chilliwack, B, C,

“I was concerned with the safety of the product,” Topp testified. “It seemed it was something that was being done in a state of fear and very hastily.”

He also discussed his inability to help with the November 2021 flooding in Hope, B.C. because his vaccine status kept him from being allowed to join the disaster response. 

“I got to a point where I did not want to live anymore,” Topp told the court. “So I thought about it and in February I decided I needed to do something, so I did.”

Topp denied any notion that he had undertaken the march in an attempt to create a movement or seek attention and that the reason for wearing his uniform was because his time with the unit “contributed to the type of person that I am.”

“I made those videos because what I thought was happening to me, and what was happening to others, was wrong,” added Topp.

The hearing will continue Wednesday, according to CTV News.