Military Commander Says Veteran’s Vaccine Mandate Stance Hurt His Unit’s Reputation

Lt.-Col. Greg Chan was responsible for pursuing the release of former warrant officer James Topp under item 5(f): ‘unsuitable for further service.’
Military Commander Says Veteran’s Vaccine Mandate Stance Hurt His Unit’s Reputation
Veteran James Topp takes a knee in front of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Ottawa on June 30, 2022. Topp walked 4,300 kilometres from Vancouver to protest against vaccine mandates. (Noé Chartier/The Epoch Times)
Noé Chartier
11/15/2023
Updated:
11/15/2023
0:00

The commander of a military reserve unit says veteran James Topp, who protested publicly against the vaccine mandates, is responsible for tanking morale, leading to dwindling personnel numbers in his regiment.

Lt.-Col. Greg Chan, the commanding officer of the Royal Westminster Regiment (RWR) in B.C., made the assertion in a letter presented during Mr. Topp’s court martial on Nov. 14.

Mr. Topp was a member of the RWR when he made two videos in February 2022 to denounce the vaccine mandates, for which he was charged with two counts of conduct to the prejudice of good order and discipline.

The combat veteran of five operational tours, who spent most of his time in the Regular Force, pleaded guilty on both counts. The prosecution dropped two other counts of wearing the uniform inappropriately.

Lt.-Col. Chan was responsible for pursuing the release of Warrant Officer Topp under item 5(f) (“unsuitable for further service”) because he refused to comply with the Canadian Armed Forces’ (CAF) vaccine mandate.

The senior officer produced a “military impact statement” about Mr. Topp that was entered as evidence in the trial.

Lt.-Col. Chan wrote that Mr. Topp’s actions “set a poor example for our soldiers” and had a direct impact on retention and recruitment.

“Warrant Topp’s actions had a negative effect on unit cohesion, morale, retention, and has harmed our soldiers’ trust in their unit level chain of command, CAF leadership, and the Canadian government,” he said.

The officer added that Mr. Topp’s actions had “degraded and tarnished” the image of the RWR in the local communities.

Lt.-Col. Chan also said Mr. Topp’s behaviours “negatively impacted” relations with the community and has “reduced our ability to attract and recruit soldiers in the Fraser Valley.”

He added that administrative efforts to deal with Mr. Topp have diminished the regiment’s effectiveness, “as it stole valuable time from key leadership and staff positions to the detriment of the rest of our soldiers.”

‘Zero Evidence’

Mr. Topp’s lawyer, Phillip Millar, cross-examined Lt.-Col. Chan on Nov. 14 and asked whether he was aware of Mr. Topp making disparaging comments about the RWR at any time during the seven months he walked across Canada to protest mandates.

“Not that I was told,” said Lt.-Col. Chan.

“So you have zero evidence? You have zero evidence of him ever saying anything disparaging about the unit,” said Mr. Millar.

“What I can speak to is if he didn’t say anything disparaging about the unit ... I do have evidence on the numbers of our unit strength, recruiting, retention, rates,” replied the officer.

When pressed about there being “zero evidence” of Mr. Topp disparaging the RWR, Lt.-Col. Chan said “yes, you’re correct.”

“So having somebody that peacefully walks across Canada when he’s removed from service ... that tarnished the image of of your regiment?” asked Mr. Millar.

“Yes,” responded Lt.-Col. Chan, who said his unit is now negatively impacted when it goes to help out during domestic operations and needs to interact with local authorities. “Can they trust us when they see a soldier that’s publicly speaking out against the government policy?”

Mr. Millar asked if he had any example or evidence that the RWR would be hampered in its support to communities because of Mr. Topp’s actions.

“To attribute such a severe consequence to the operational effectiveness of the Canadian Forces might be convenient for the chain of command, but if you don’t have any evidence to back it up, we need more than feelings,” said Mr. Millar.

Mr. Topp told the court the previous day that he felt distraught when historic floods hit his local community of Hope, B.C., in November 2021, but he couldn’t help with his reserve unit because he was unvaccinated.

The CAF imposed a vaccine mandate on the troops in October 2021—even though it didn’t fall under the scope of the public service mandate imposed by the Liberal government—partly in order to show “leadership” to Canadians.
As a result, hundreds of members left voluntarily or were kicked-out, and dozens of others who complied suffered vaccine injuries, according to allegations in lawsuits filed against the military leadership.

Instead of using the National Defence Act’s section 126 on vaccination to lay charges against soldiers not following orders, non-compliant CAF members were dismissed through an administrative process.

Mr. Millar argued on Nov. 15 the CAF leadership chose this avenue to avoid having to defend the vaccine mandate before a tribunal.

‘Exacting a Punishment’

Lt.-Col. Chan said he had supported Mr. Topp’s release of the CAF under item 5(f), “unsuitable for further service,” because of his refusal of COVID-19 vaccination and his public statements.

“So you were exacting a punishment before this court martial started, by ending his career administratively,” said Mr. Millar.

“Yes,” replied Lt.-Col. Chan. “We followed the administrative procedure, not a disciplinary one for that aspect.”

Mr. Millar also asked the officer to expand on his comment about Mr. Topp affecting RWR personnel strength and to provide supporting data.

Lt.-Col. Chan said his unit had 249 troops as of March 2021. A month after Mr. Topp posted his videos online on March 31, 2022, the officer said the unit had 238 personnel. In July 2022 it was down to 220, in December 2022 it was 210, and by March 31, 2023, the RWR had 201 troops.

“So in that one fiscal year we went down 37 pers[onnel],” he said.

Mr. Millar asked Lt.-Col. Chan to provide the percent deviation compared to other reserve units over the same timeframe. The officer said he wasn’t able to do so.

“So you'd have no idea if that was attributable to Warrant Officer Topp or if that was a general trend of the Canadian people not wanting to join the Canadian Forces over the same time period,” said Mr. Millar.

Lt.-Col. Chan said he couldn’t comment on that because it was “outside my scope.”

“You think you had an obligation to understand that before you laid the blame at this warrant officer for something as serious as that?” asked Mr. Millar.

The CAF has been plagued by personnel issues in recent years, with Chief of the Defence Staff Gen. Wayne Eyre ordering a pause of non-essential activities in October 2022 to undertake force reconstitution.
Department of National Defence (DND) data obtained by The Epoch Times last week shows that the CAF Regular Force suffered a net loss of 321 personnel so far in 2023. The CDS said in September the force is short 16,000 troops.

Released Because of Policy

To prove his point that Mr. Topp negatively impacted personnel in his unit, Lt.-Col. Chan told the court that Mr. Topp’s company had suffered more losses compared to the rest of the regiment. “There’s members from that company who have released as a direct result of his actions,” he said.

Mr. Millar asked why the members would release in response to Mr. Topp’s actions if he had been removed from command and was being kicked out of the forces.

“Why on earth would somebody release if he wasn’t in the unit anymore?” he said.

Lt.-Col. Chan said that disobeying orders and speaking out publicly had created dissonance in the ranks.

“I was saying they looked at him as an example to follow and released as a result of that,” he said.

“So they released because they shared some of his concerns about the Canadian Forces. Is that fair?” asked Mr. Millar.

“Some, or the disciplinary side of things,” replied Lt.-Col. Chan. He said it “could be a factor” that soldiers chose to release from his unit because he was enforcing the 5(f) release for those not complying with the vaccine mandate.

Mr. Millar also asked about recent decisions of the Military Grievances External Review Committee (MGERC), which found the vaccine mandate was “arbitrary” and had infringed on charter rights.

“So you were comfortable kicking him out of the forces because he spoke out against what now has been determined an illegal order?” said Mr. Millar. Lt.-Col. Chan responded “yes” but he defended the legality of the order.

The MGERC is an administrative tribunal producing non-biding rulings and the CDS has final authority on the grievances. The CDS has so far not addressed any of the COVID-19 policies grievances on his desk since the spring.

Mr. Millar also asked Lt.-Col. Chan how Mr. Topp’s actions had hurt unit cohesion. The officer said an infantry unit relies on strong leaders to pass down information to complete a mission, so going against the leadership sets a bad example.

“During this time, we’re trying to push through a lot of cultural change efforts,” he added. “Having issues such as this pop up make it difficult for me as the commanding officer to instill confidence in our soldiers that what we’re doing in terms of cultural change is going to be correct, or getting their buy-in for matters like that.”

Lt.-Col. Chan also said it was “most likely” that changing the cultural fabric of the CAF has affected retention and recruiting numbers.

The Liberal government is trying to change the culture of the military to stamp out issues like sexual misconduct, but also to impose on it a diversity, equity, and inclusion framework.

Sentence

Military Judge Julie Deschênes said on Nov. 15 she would hand down the sentence for Mr. Topp on Nov. 16.

The prosecution has argued that offering him an absolute discharge would be “absolutely contrary to the public interest” and as asked Mr. Topp be handed down a “severe reprimand” and a $5,200 fine.

The defence has pleaded for a full discharge and no fine, arguing that Mr. Topp has already suffered financially by being kicked out of the military and being suspended without pay by his civilian employer, the RCMP, for 17 months.

Noé Chartier is a senior reporter with the Canadian edition of The Epoch Times. Twitter: @NChartierET
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