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Quebec Officer Testifies: Barber and Lich on Trial for Refusing to Disperse During Convoy Protest

A Quebec police officer testified that protesters at the Freedom Convoy demonstrations in Ottawa refused to leave as police officers moved in to remove them.

OTTAWA—Protesters at the Freedom Convoy demonstrations in Ottawa pushed back against police officers attempting to remove them and refused to leave, according to the testimony of a Quebec police officer at the trial of protest organizers Tamara Lich and Chris Barber.

“The reason that we were going slowly is because it was a heavy presence of demonstrators that prevented us from moving forward,” Captain Etienne Martel with Sûreté du Québec testified in court on Sept. 18.

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“It was a crowd that was existing, they were not moving,” he said.

Capt. Martel was the commander of a squad of 45 to 50 police officers deployed to Ottawa in mid-February 2022 to help end the demonstration.

The protest initially began when truck drivers responded in opposition to COVID-19 vaccine mandates imposed by the federal government at the Canada-U.S. border. It later escalated into three weeks of large-scale protests in downtown Ottawa against pandemic restrictions and mandates.

In response to the demonstrations, the federal government invoked the Emergencies Act on Feb. 14, which gave it expanded powers to end the protest by freezing protesters’ bank accounts and to commandeer tow truck drivers to remove the truckers’ vehicles. On Feb. 17, a large police operation began to clear out the remaining protesters from downtown Ottawa.

Mr. Barber and Ms. Lich, two prominent organizers of the Freedom Convoy protest, were 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.

The Crown prosecution is attempting to establish that Mr. Barber and Ms. Lich influenced how the protest unfolded over the course of three weeks and that repeated calls by the two to “hold the line” resulted in protesters digging in and refusing to leave.

‘They Just Stayed in Place’

Capt. Martel said when his squad arrived in downtown Ottawa on Feb. 18, they were placed 15 feet from the “front line” established by police officers on the corner of Rideau Street and Sussex Drive. He said the police were able to move approximately 150 metres forward over the course of many hours due to the protesters’ refusal to move.

“There were no projectiles that were thrown or anything. We could hear some yelling, but they just stayed in place,” he added.

Capt. Martel added that there were more protesters than police on the first day of the police action and that protester numbers throughout the day remained “relatively stable.”

On the following day on Feb. 19, police officers continued to advance against the protesters, moving them up towards Wellington Street in front of the Parliament building. Capt. Martel said that because Wellington Street was narrower, the police were able to advance more quickly than on the previous day.

Capt. Martel said while there “seemed to be fewer” protesters than the previous day, they were “more concentrated.” He also said police movements were disrupted by a snowbank barrier protesters had created to block police.

“When we reached up to there, we tried to figure out a way to get past that without exposing us to risk or hurting the demonstrators,” he said. “The manoeuvre I made was we advanced one step at a time, and the police squads from Peel and Toronto supported us from behind. We crossed those obstacles and then we stopped.”

The Crown prosecutors also showed the courtroom video footage from Feb. 18 and 19. Some video clips showed Capt. Martel’s squad in the police line pushing against demonstrators, who repeatedly shouted “hold the line” and “freedom.”

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