Police, city officials and former Ottawa mayor Jim Watson will be among 22 witnesses called at the criminal trial of “Freedom Convoy” organizers Tamara Lich and Chris Barber.
As their trial got underway at the Ottawa courthouse Tuesday, Crown attorney Tim Radcliffe said he will also submit more than 100 exhibits. That will include dozens of videos, photos and letters from the Freedom Convoy protest, which gridlocked the city of Ottawa in winter 2022.
Given the mountain of material expected at the trial the opening morning was largely spent with lawyers explaining how they expect the trial to unfold over 16 days of testimony.
“We’re trying to put this case on the rails,” Justice Heather Perkins-McVey told the court.
Jim Watson, who was the mayor of Ottawa during the protest, was at the courthouse Tuesday and confirmed he expects to testify.
Lich and Barber were part of the original group that mobilized a convoy of big rigs and other trucks and cars to drive to Ottawa in winter 2022 to protest COVID-19 public health restrictions and the Liberal government.
Hundreds of vehicles blocked downtown streets and thousands of protesters entrenched themselves for three weeks, hosting all-night parties with open fires, honking their horns at all hours and filing the streets with the smell of diesel.
The protest inspired similar demonstrations at several international border crossings and precipitated the first invocation of the federal Emergencies Act since the legislation was created in 1988.
Lich and Barber are co-accused, both charged with mischief, obstructing police, counselling others to commit mischief and intimidation.
Barber, who owns a trucking company in Saskatchewan, is also charged with counselling others to disobey a court order that banned loud honking in Ottawa’s downtown core.
The Crown hopes to establish that Barber and Lich worked together in lockstep, so that evidence against one of them will apply to both.
The two sat in the first row of seats behind their lawyers to answer to the charges Tuesday.
The rest of the benches in the courtroom are crowded with about 50 supporters, news reporters and lawyers.
The trial is being held strictly in person, with no option to view the proceedings virtually.
Given the public interest in the case, Perkins-McVey said she requested the largest courtroom in the Ontario court of justice to allow as many people as possible to watch.
Lich was greeted outside the courthouse Tuesday by a small crowd of supporters and reporters, but would only say “good morning,” as she walked past and into the building.
She arrived in a navy blue suit and crisp white shirt. Barber arrived in a plaid shirt and jeans.
One supporter on the sidewalk held a “Freedom” sign upside-down. Another carried sign that read “I support Chris Barber” on one side and “I support Tamara Lich on the other.”
Inside the courthouse a man in the crowd of supporters wore a “Free Tamara” T-shirt.
During the federal inquiry into the use of the Emergencies Act last year, Barber testified that the idea for the protest was initially born out of a conversation between him and another truck driver over the social media platform TikTok.
The two truckers had vented about federal vaccine mandates for cross-border truck drivers and spoke about launching a protest.
As the weeks passed, more and more people became involved in planning a demonstration, and the aim of the protest expanded to include the elimination of all pandemic public-health measures and, for some factions of the protest, the overthrow of Canada’s elected government.
Lich, a former member of the western independence movement in Alberta, joined the growing group of organizers to help them with their social-media presence and started an online fundraiser that ultimately garnered $10.1 million in donations.
She gradually became a figurehead of the movement. Just a few days into the protest, Keith Wilson, the organizers’ lawyer, introduced her as “the spark that lit the fire” of the Freedom Convoy.
Both Lich and Barber were arrested on the eve of a massive operation to forcibly remove protesters from the streets around Parliament Hill, after the Liberals declared a national emergency under the Emergencies Act and approved special powers for police.
Barber was immediately released on bail, but Lich was held in jail for a total of 49 days before her trial.
Chris Barber walking into court says he’s “excited” pic.twitter.com/GgU0TWK3qh
— Judy Trinh (@judyatrinh) September 5, 2023
Tamara Lich and Lawyer Lawrence Greenspon walk into court (Raw footage from my cell phone ) pic.twitter.com/kQhUY2EsUY
— Judy Trinh (@judyatrinh) September 5, 2023
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 5, 2023.
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