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Opening Day of Barber, Lich Trial Sees Defence and Crown in Disagreement over “Occupation” Label for Freedom Convoy

OTTAWA—The defence in the trial of Freedom Convoy organizers Tamara Lich and Chris Barber is taking issue with the Crown prosecutors calling the protest an “occupation.”

“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,” said lawyer Lawrence Greenspon on the opening day of the trial on Sept. 5.

In his remarks to the court, Crown prosecutor Tim Radcliffe said the protest organizers “crossed the line” when they encouraged protesters to “occupy” and remain in downtown Ottawa.

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“The defence has also cited multiple incidents where the accused called for a peaceful protest. This occupation was anything but peaceful,” Mr. Radcliffe said in his opening remarks.

“Not only did the protesters hold the line for weeks, as directed by Mr. Barber and Ms. Lich, but in doing so they crossed the line, and committed multiple crimes.”

Ms. Lich and Mr. Barber were two of the most prominent organizers of the trucker protest that took place in January and February 2022, which saw hundreds of vehicles bring downtown Ottawa to a grinding halt. The Freedom Convoy protest started in response to COVID-19 vaccine mandates for truck drivers crossing the Canada-U.S. border and resulted in encampments in the nation’s capital.

Similar protests were held at several Canada-U.S. border crossings, where vehicles blocked access to the border. During the protests, Freedom Convoy organizers issued statements saying they were not part of the blockades at the border crossings.

On Feb. 14, 2022, the federal government invoked the Emergencies Act for the first time since the act’s creation in 1988, giving itself greater powers to end the protest, including the ability to ban travel to specified zones and to freeze protesters’ bank accounts.

Chris Barber arrives for his trial at the courthouse in Ottawa on Sept. 5, 2023. (The Canadian Press/Justin Tang)
Chris Barber arrives for his trial at the courthouse in Ottawa on Sept. 5, 2023. (The Canadian Press/Justin Tang)

Mr. Radcliffe said that Ms. Lich and Mr. Barber encouraged protesters to obstruct roads, hinder police efforts, and interfere with downtown Ottawa residents’ enjoyment of their property. He said the pair also made numerous statements counselling protesters to remain in Ottawa and participate in the protest—even after the Emergencies Act had been introduced—such as Ms. Lich’s command to “hold the line” and the TikTok video in which Mr. Barber encouraged truckers to continue honking horns.

Mr. Radcliffe argued that the actions of Ms. Lich and Mr. Barber went “far beyond” the exercising of their rights to protest.

“Freedom of expression, like all other charter rights, is not an absolute right. The charter does not give a person the legal right to unlawfully tramp on the legal rights of others,” he said.

The prosecutor added that Ms. Lich and Mr. Barber were not on trial for their political beliefs but for the means they used to achieve their goal of getting COVID-19 vaccine mandates and passports lifted.

Defence Arguments

Defence lawyer Mr. Greenspon said the use of the word “occupation” is inaccurate, referring to the definition of the word outlined in the Hague Regulations of 1907, which says a territory is “considered occupied when it is actually placed under the authority of the hostile army.”

“The true sense of the word has far more serious implications and consequences for the people who have been historically—and for the people who are right now — victims of it,” Mr. Greenspon said.

The defence also argued that Ms. Lich and Mr. Barber were lawfully protesting, and even assisted police in moving protesters’ vehicles throughout the protest.

The Crown has plans to call a total of 22 witnesses, including OC Transpo employees, downtown residents, employees from the office of former Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson, and officers from the Ottawa Police Liaison Team.

The trial, being held at Ottawa Courthouse just two blocks from the epicentre of the trucker protest, is expected to last at least 16 days.

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