“Freedom Convoy” organizers Tamara Lich and Chris Barber are not on trial for their political beliefs, a Crown prosecutor told an Ottawa courtroom Tuesday.
Rather, they must answer to charges related to the means they used to achieve their goal.
Tim Radcliffe told the court the two organizers didn’t just “hold the line” during their illegal occupation of downtown Ottawa last year, they “crossed the line, and in so doing they committed multiple crimes.”
“This case is not about their political views,” Radcliffe said. “What’s at issue … is the means they employed, not the ends.”
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.
They’re charged with mischief, counselling others to commit mischief, intimidation and obstructing police.
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 trial comes nearly 20 months after police moved in and dislodged hundreds of trucks and other vehicles that entrenched themselves around the streets of Parliament Hill for three weeks in January and February 2022.
Radcliffe told the court earlier Tuesday he intended to submit more than 100 pieces of evidence and call 22 witnesses, including Ottawa police and city officials. Former Ottawa mayor Jim Watson is also on the witness list.
The trial is expected to last 16 days.
While the first witness, Ottawa police Const. Craig Barlow, was on the stand, Radcliffe played a 12-minute compilation video of scenes from the convoy protest to introduce the court to what life was like in Ottawa at the time.
The sound of revving engines, air horns, chants of “Freedom” and “We’re not leaving” filled the Ottawa courtroom as scenes of blocked intersections, massive crowds, open fires and Canadian flags played on a large TV screen.
The video also showed a sea of protesters pushing back against police during a massive operation to put an end to the protest.
Radcliffe said the Crown intends to demonstrate using 50 videos they filmed that shows they were key organizers of the movement that led to an “occupation” around downtown Ottawa
Lich and Barber’s lawyers immediately disputed the Crown’s use of the words “occupation,” calling it “inflammatory, inaccurate and insensitive.”
“In a world where the trite, the mundane and the trivial are called ‘awesome’ and ‘amazing,’ it is no surprise, but nevertheless disappointing, that the demonstration of Jan. 26 to Feb. 19 in the downtown of Ottawa would be referred to as an occupation,” Lich’s lawyer’s Lawrence Greenspon said Tuesday.
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, in a navy blue suit and crisp white shirt, arrived at the courthouse with her lawyers and was greeted by a small crowd of supporters, including one holding a “Freedom” sign upside-down.
All she said as she walked past them and reporters awaiting her arrival was “good morning.”
Inside the courtroom she sat in the front row behind the lawyers and beside Barber, who was in jeans and a plaid shirt.
About 50 of their supporters showed up to watch the proceedings in person, one of whom wore a T-shirt that said “Free Tamara” on it.
Given the public interest in the case, Justice Heather Perkins-McVey said she requested the largest courtroom in the Ontario court of justice to allow as many people as possible to watch.
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.
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. Some factions of the protest also sought 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.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 5, 2023.
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
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