The criminal trial of Freedom Convoy leaders Chris Barber and Tamara Lich continued at a snail’s pace on its 10th day. On Sept. 19, the City of Ottawa’s general manager of emergency and protective services (EPS) testified that he feared for the safety of his bylaw officers during the protest in downtown Ottawa in January and February 2022.
“We weren’t sure of the risk level of the individuals involved. We were fearful for the safety of our officers, not knowing what the intent was of the protesters,” Kim Ayotte said when asked about bylaw officers only being permitted to ticket when accompanied by police escorts during the convoy protests.
“That’s a decision that I made based on what I’d been seeing throughout North America regarding protests and civil unrest. And we were reminded by the police chief to not be that single point of contact that could cause a riot.”
The convoy protest began in response to COVID-19 vaccine mandates imposed in mid-January 2022 by the federal government on truckers crossing the Canada-U.S. border. It later escalated into three weeks of large-scale protests in downtown Ottawa by those opposed to the feds’ pandemic restrictions and mandates. In mid-February 2022, the federal government invoked the Emergencies Act for the first time ever to bring the protest to an end.
Mr. Barber and Ms. Lich, two of the most prominent organizers of the Freedom Convoy protest, are charged with mischief, counselling to commit mischief, intimidation, and obstructing police. Mr. Barber faces an additional charge of counselling others to disobey a court order.
Plans for Coventry Road
Mr. Ayotte, who was in charge of the city’s bylaw enforcement, fire and paramedic services, as well as the department overseeing special events during the convoy protests, told the court that the city was preparing for a “worst-case scenario” as the truckers approached Ottawa.
He said the city lacked intelligence from law enforcement, and five days before the protest began there was some uncertainty as to whether the truckers were heading to Ottawa as they had indicated or to Toronto.
Mr. Ayotte testified that the parking lot of the baseball diamond on Coventry Road in the east end of Ottawa was initially planned to be used as an “overflow site” for pedestrian parking for the first weekend of the protest only. That site would eventually become a base of operations for the Freedom Convoy, providing the truckers with fuel, food, and warmth throughout the three-week protest.
According to Mr. Ayotte, mandating that emergency services like bylaw officers and paramedics needed a police escort when going into the downtown Ottawa “red zone” was typical for most protests in the city but was “dependent on the risk level.”
Defence prosecutors on multiple occasions objected to the line of questioning Mr. Ayotte was getting from Crown prosecutors. When Mr. Ayotte cited his concerns with the protest becoming a “riot,” defence lawyer Lawrence Greenspon said the Crown had a responsibility to stop evidence that was “inflammatory” and “not for the truth of its contents.”
During the morning of the proceedings, when Mr. Ayotte was asked how often he went on walks to assess the Freedom Convoy, Mr. Greenspon took issue with the lack of disclosure and Mr. Ayotte not having notes on the specific walks with him.
“You have another witness, your honour, where the expansion of their evidence is not accompanied by the appropriate scope,” Mr. Greenspon said.
Mr. Ayotte said he did not believe he would need his notes, but Mr. Greens