On Thursday, Chris Barber, a key organizer for the “Freedom Convoy,” faced a court hearing in Ottawa. Barber had been captured in a social media video calling for supporters to “flood the city.” Barber’s actions are part of the Crown’s case, where they hope his urge to bring individuals to Ottawa amidst police orders for protesters to vacate, could prove detrimental not only to himself but also his co-organizer, Tamara Lich.
Barber who resides in Swift Current, Sask., operates a trucking business, while Lich hails from Medicine Hat, Alta. Collectively, they are defendants in the trial facing charges related to their coordinated protest against the 2021 COVID-19 health restrictions. Offences include mischief, coaching others to commit mischief, intimidation, and hampering police as the streets of Ottawa remained blockaded for several weeks due to the protest.
Furthermore, Barber is confronted with another charge instigating others to breach a court ruling which prohibited large vehicles from demonstrating protest by honking in the city’s core. Initial estimates suggest the convoy cost the city around $62 million with the lion’s share dedicated to maintaining law and order, including collaborating with numerous forces to deescalate the situation.
During the third-day hearing at Ottawa, the Crown enlisted Ottawa police Sgt. Joanne Pilotte, a typical homicide unit member who compiled five hours of protest videos taken from TikTok and YouTube. The prolonged demonstration around Parliament Hill earlier in 2022 witnessed an abundance of protesting videos, showcasing the phenomenal echo of honking horns and the amassing spectators.
The Crown allocated a significant part of the third-day hearing showcasing a sequence of video clips from Barber’s TikTok profile. In one such video, Barber alerted his followers, hypothesizing about the forthcoming arrival of riot police to Ottawa. He encouraged protesters to swarm the city should protest organizers’ “phones go dark.”
The Crown alleges Barber and Lich were instrumental in masterminding the protest, dictating the protesters’ and trucks’ movement, and persuading them to hold their ground despite police orders to disperse. The prosecution hopes to establish a conspiracy between Lich and Barber during the protest with sufficient evidence against either party implicating both.
Barber’s attorney, Diane Magas, requested the Crown to better establish the extent of the purported conspiracy between Lich, Barber, and others. Lich’s involvement was minimal in the social media clips shown in court; her presence was marked twice in the background in one of Barber’s videos. No videos or live streams posted by Lich have been presented until now.
Eric Granger, Lich’s lawyer, expressed his opposition to the Crown’s conspiracy allegations, affirming they will contest it. He remained ambiguous when questioned about how imperative the conspiracy application is against Lich, suggesting that people should form their conclusions based on how infrequently certain names have been mentioned.
The courthouse expects the trial to extend for a minimum of 13 more days. An Ontario Superior Court judge had previously permitted an injunction on February 7, 2022, prohibiting the ceaseless honking from the big rig trucks throughout the day and night within the city’s core as a result of a class-action lawsuit filed by an Ottawa resident against the protesters. Violating the injunction carried the potential for a contempt charge, which associates with higher penalties than regular bylaw offences.
After two days, Barber acknowledged the court-ordered honk ban but insisted truckers not to yield if they encounter a large police force, encouraging them to make as much noise as possible, regardless of time.
During the hearing, Barber sat in the first row, occasionally noting down as his videos played on a large screen. His demeanor remained undisturbed, notwithstanding the Crown showing yet another video where Barber hinted at vacant spots near the National Art Gallery in downtown Ottawa that needed filling.
In a subsequent video, Barber implied that each driver apprehended by police during the demonstration would be replaced by three others. The third day of the trial saw a reduced number of supporters in court, with six scattered around the courthouse lawn exhibiting signs reading “Free Chris” and “Free Tamara.”