In the frigid, wintery landscape of Ottawa in 2022, the specter of Tamara Lich, a petite figure and spearhead of the “Freedom Convoy” movement, was witnessed being led from her supportive congregation, handcuffed. As the officers on either side guided her to an awaiting police vehicle, her voice chime against the icy chill, “Hold the line,” she implored.
Her utterance echoed a rallying cry shared by her backers the preceding evening, recorded and widely disseminated online just hours prior to a massive police operation aiming to dislodge protesters from the streets circumscribing Parliament Hill.
Lich’s succinct farewell resonated, not just in the streets, but far beyond as the title of her recently published book, thus set to feature centrically in her impending criminal trial. Lich and the fellow Convoy organizer, Chris Barber, were poised to be arraigned in Ottawa on Tuesday, charged with orchestrating the weeks-long protest that engulfed downtown streets, resulting in a national emergency declaration.
In the sporadic, tense days that marked the protest’s fading twilight, police issued dismissal orders to all attendees. In response, “hold the line” became a source of synergy, a cheer of camaraderie, and a valediction amongst organizers and supporters.
Barber and Lich are jointly charged with sowing discord, obstructing law enforcement, inciting others towards misconduct, and harassment. The crux of these accusations hinges on whether these two leading figures urged protesters to ignore and defy police orders to vacate Ottawa, a potentially criminal action.
Their legal representation enunciated on Friday, “We do not expect this to be the trial of the Freedom Convoy.” They further clarified that the trial would focus on evaluating whether the actions of Lich and Barber, as organizers of a peaceful protest, merited criminal penalties.
Lich proclaimed in a federal inquiry last year that her exhortation to “hold the line” was not an incitement to linger in the capital. She intended to inspire her followers to stubbornly uphold their values even in challenging circumstances.
The trial is set to roll out over at least 16 days, with review of countless social media posts, including live-streamed videos from Lich, Barber, and others throughout the protest.
Additional evidence may stem from Barber’s private conversations with Lich, secured by Ottawa police and presented by the Crown during one of her bail hearings the previous year.
Big-rig trucks monopolized downtown byways and residential districts, turning streets into a boisterous winter carnival, replete with fireworks, live performances, inflatable play structures, and even alfresco hot tubs.
Meanwhile, the local citizenry and councilors relayed a vastly divergent narrative, calling the event an “occupation,” ravaging their quiet community’s law and order. Many locals felt entrapped, their daily routines besieged by perpetual horns and the fear of venturing outside their homes.
In reaction to the palpable threat, many businesses proactively locked their doors, even a nearby shopping mall.
The reformative voice of the “Freedom Convoy” was born of a quiet digital conversation between Chris Barber, an owner of a Saskatchewan trucking business, and fellow trucker Bridgette Belton on TikTok. An online grumble about the emergent stringent COVID-19 mandates morphed into a tangible protest movement that quickly swelled with the support pouring in from followers including Lich, an Albertan resident and the founding board member of the nascent Maverick Party.
As organizers multiplied, so did the protest’s objectives. From contesting pandemic-driven public health mandates to advocating the dissolution of the ruling government, the movement gained multifaceted momentum.
From then till their subsequent arrests, Lich and Barber maintained a unified front, overseen by their counsel, Keith Wilson. Now forbidden to interact without legal presence, Lich announced their unabated team spirit recently while promoting her book in Vernon, B.C.
The stakes for the Crown lie on proving Lich and Barber guilty of concerted action, thereby ensuring that evidence against one implicates both.
Highlighting a period of civil unrest, the Ottawa demonstration earned global attention. The initial gathering exploded into thousands, refusing to leave, inspiring mirror protests establishing blockades at multiple Canada-U.S. borders. Splinter incidents like these attest to the cascading influence of the “Freedom Convoy,” an influence that continues to echo in a courtroom in Ottawa.