Two high-profile figures behind the “Freedom Convoy” protests, Tamara Lich and Chris Barber, currently face trial for criminal charges in relation to their activities in the demonstrations which brought Ottawa city streets to a standstill for weeks. These protests were fueled by discontent and resistance to public health measures instituted against COVID-19.
Lawrence Greenspon, the attorney representing Lich, stated in court that “This is not the trial of the Freedom Convoy.” This affirmation, reiterated so keenly in the opening week of the trial by the defense, has practically become its motto.
The prosecution, on the other hand, hold a divergent interpretation of the events. Crown attorney Siobhain Wetscher argued that the trial fundamentally focuses on unraveling the roles Lich and Barber played in the chaos unfolded within the city during the protest.
The prosecution intends to call upon five local residents to testify on what they witnessed and experienced during the convoy. Among them is Zexi Li, who led a class-action lawsuit against the organisers representing those residing or working downtown.
Their testimonies are expected to shed light on the hardships they endured – blocked roads, incessant honking, rumbling truck engines, unbearable exhaust fumes, witnessing indecent public behaviour and confinement in their homes. Additionally, the Crown will present the owner of a women’s clothing store, employees from the National Arts Centre, and the public transit operator as witnesses. Although initial plans included an employee from Fairmont Chateau Laurier hotel, this has since been withdrawn.
Both Lich and Barber have admitted that the protestors’ conduct interfered with public transit and lawfully occupied properties and businesses. However, Greenspon argued against the inclusion of these nine witnesses, stating that their testimonies bore no legal relevance as none had direct interaction with his client or Barber, and the organisers had acknowledged no part in the disturbance.
Despite this, Wetscher argued that the admission did not suffice to block the testimonies of individuals directly affected by the protest. She countered Greenspon’s assertion that the protest was peaceful, claiming the Crown considered it “anything but” peaceful.
The aim of the Crown is to demonstrate the extent of disruption, intimidation and obstruction that occurred when thousands of large vehicles arrived in Ottawa earlier this year, creating what the city’s mayor described as a “siege” and an “illegal occupation.”
While the question of peacefulness might not directly impact the charges Lich and Barber contend with, according to Justice Heather Perkins-McVey, they could be considered aggravating factors. The pair are charged with mischief, incitement to mischief, intimidation and obstructing the police, with Barber facing an additional charge of inciting violation of a court order banning horn-honking, issued in response to Li’s lawsuit.
Wetscher justified the Crown’s right to present whatever evidence they deemed appropriate to connect the words and actions of Lich and Barber to the experiences of downtown inhabitants and workers.
Justice Perkins-McVey warned that witnesses would not be permitted to discuss the personal impact of the protest on them, and she assured that she would rigorously monitor their testimonies. She mentioned that the testimony of the first witness, Ottawa Police Inspector Russell Lucas, revealed a fragmented protest, with a variety of motivations, complicating the task of directly linking the observations of the locals to the actions of Lich and Barber.