In a court hearing yesterday, the “Freedom Convoy” organizers, Tamara Lich and Chris Barber, were pressed on the charges related to their actions—not their political views—in leading a disruptive protest against COVID-19 public health orders. Crown prosecutor, Tim Radcliffe, employed his opening statement during the first day of their 16-day trial to delineate the picture of Lich and Barber as pivotal figures of the protest that paralyzed downtown Ottawa adjacent to Parliament Hill for three weeks in early 2022 until the intervention of the police.
Radcliffe highlighted, “This occupation was anything but peaceful.” Lich from Medicine Hat, Alta., and Barber from Swift Current, Sask., were among the initiators who rallied a convoy of large trucks and other vehicles, intending to voice their dissent against the COVID-19 public health orders and the federal Liberal government more generally.
The charges levelled against both individuals include mischief, counselling others to commit mischief, intimidation, and obstructing police. Additionally, Barber, who runs a trucking business in Saskatchewan, faces charges connected to advising others to defy a court order prohibiting loud honking in the city’s downtown region.
Lich and Barber, in a court-recorded admission, acknowledged certain individuals’ actions obstructed the lawful operation, usage, and celebration of public spaces and businesses in downtown Ottawa throughout the protest. Additionally, in a separate legal document, Lich conceded that she served as a leader, organizer, and authorized spokesperson for the “Freedom Convoy.”
As Radcliffe delineated the Crown’s standpoint, he emphasized that Lich and Barber not only encouraged people to gather in Ottawa but also urged them to stay. They were instrumental in influencing key elements of the protest such as the chosen parking locations, and primary protest slogan, all bound towards their political goal of terminating pandemic health orders, including vaccine mandates.
However, Radcliffe emphasized, “This case is not about their political views…What’s at issue is the means they employed, not the ends.” He further stressed that their actions had crossed certain legal bounds, culminating in numerous criminal offences.
The courtroom on Tuesday was populated by approximately 50 people, including supporters of Lich and Barber. Justice Heather Perkins-McVey underlined that she had specifically called for the largest courtroom to accommodate a maximum number of observers due to their public interest in the case.
The Crown intends to present over a hundred pieces of evidence and summon 22 witnesses, including key figures from the Ottawa police force and city officials. Lich and Barber’s defence lawyers expressed a desire to expedite the process, hoping that acknowledging the protest’s disruptive nature would bypass the need to hear from multiple witnesses.
Controversy arose over the use of the term “occupation” in describing the event, with both defence lawyers objecting to it as being “inflammatory, inaccurate, and insensitive.”
Ottawa police Const. Craig Barlow served as the first witness for the Crown. The court was introduced to the scope of the event through a compilation video from the protest primarily sourced from police body cameras. Later, scenes depicting the use of force against protesters were also shown. However, in her cross-examination, Diane Magas, Barber’s representative, queried Barlow on additional footage of peaceful activities during the protest that were not included in the initial compilation.