At the commencement of the trial of Tamara Lich and Chris Barber, two central figures of the “Freedom Convoy” movement, Crown Prosecutor Tim Radcliffe stated that it’s not the political beliefs of the accused that are under scrutiny. Rather, the focus lies on the means they employed during their crusade against public health orders related to COVID-19.
Radcliffe sought to paint a vivid image of Lich and Barber’s role during the protest that paralyzed downtown Ottawa for three weeks at the beginning of 2022. He described the occupation as turbulent and unpeaceful, brushing aside any notion of tranquility that might be associated with the protest.
Originating from Medicine Hat, Alberta, and Swift Current, Saskatchewan respectively, Lich and Barber formed part of the initial group that mobilized a convoy of large vehicles, driving to Ottawa to demonstrate against COVID-19 health rulings and the Liberal government at large. Collectively, they stand accused of incitement, counselling for mischief, obstruction of police, and intimidation. Barber, a trucking company owner in Saskatchewan, has an additional charge of provoking others to disobey a court order banning excessive honking in Ottawa’s city center.
In a frank admission, Lich and Barber conceded to the court that the actions of certain individuals during the protest hindered lawful operations and enjoyment of downtown Ottawa properties and businesses. Furthermore, they acknowledged their roles as leaders and organizers of the ‘Freedom Convoy’.
Radcliffe made a case for the accused having counselled those who traveled to Ottawa, and even encouraging them to extend their stay. This was part of their strategy, which included their renowned refrain ‘hold the line’, and controlling and influencing car park locations, all with the intent to pressure decision-makers and expedite the end of the pandemic health orders.
Radcliffe highlighted that the issue lies not with their political views, but in their methods of expressing these views. He strongly asserted that the aforementioned duo crossed the line during the three weeks in Ottawa, committing a series of crimes. The prosecutor hopes to establish that Lich and Barber worked cohesively, implying that when evidence is presented against one, it equally implicates the other.
After the opening remarks, Radcliffe indicated plans for the prosecution to submit over 100 pieces of evidence and call upon 22 witnesses, including senior Ottawa police and city officers. As part of their defence strategy, Lich and Barber hope that by admitting to the protest’s disruptive nature, they will eliminate the need to encounter nine witnesses, including business owners and residents of Ottawa.
The court’s first witness, Ottawa police Const. Craig Barlow, provided a comprehensive picture of life in Ottawa during the protest hours by presenting a 12-minute video compilation, mostly from police body cameras.
Disturbing scenes of blocked intersections, numerous demonstrators, open fires, and Canadian flags took centre stage of the courtroom. The unceremonious cries of protesters coupled with revving engines and air horns echoed through the room, occasionally drowning out chants of determination from the crowd.
In the cross-examination, Barber’s representative, Diane Magas, challenged the witness, asking whether he had viewed footage of protesters nonviolently interacting – playing street hockey, hugging one another, or bouncing in inflatable structures. Though Barlow acknowledged these missing fragments, he explained that he was not asked to include them.
In its final charge for the day, the prosecution unveiled videos that captured the intensity of the interactions between the police and protesters, emphasizing the repeated chants of “hold the line” and the unequivocal declaration, “we’re not going anywhere,” by one protester. The day concluded with Magas introducing a series of demonstrations of police using force against demonstrators.