With the criminal trial of Freedom Convoy leaders Tamara Lich and Chris Barber on hiatus after its 13th day, it appears no closer to completion. Technical delays, lengthy videos, and deliberation between Crown and defence lawyers have resulted in only four witnesses testifying out of the initial 22 set to testify over 10 days. Justice Heather Perkins-McVey has yet to rule on whether eight additional witnesses from Ottawa will be allowed to testify. These witnesses claim to have been harmed by honking, diesel fumes, and harassment.
The trial, originally scheduled for 16 days, began in response to COVID-19 vaccine mandates imposed on truckers crossing the Canada-U.S. border. Over three weeks, hundreds of vehicles gathered in downtown Ottawa to protest the mandates and COVID-19 restrictions. On February 14, the government utilized the Emergencies Act to end the protest, marking the first time this measure had been used since 1988. Lich and Barber were arrested on February 17, the same day Ottawa’s interim police chief warned that action to remove protesters was “imminent.” The pair faces charges of mischief, counselling to commit mischief, intimidation, and obstructing police. Barber also faces an additional charge of counselling others to disobey a court order.
The defence lawyers argue that Lich and Barber lawfully protested and aided police throughout the event, challenging the “occupy” label. The Crown seeks to prove that they had significant influence on the protest and conspired together. To support their case, the Crown introduced various social media videos, including those from Barber’s TikTok account. These videos show Barber advocating for peaceful protests; however, one video led to Barber being charged with counselling others to disobey a court order. The defence also presented videos highlighting the protest leaders’ calls for peaceful demonstrations and interpretations of the phrase “hold the line” from other sources.
During the trial, witnesses shed light on the struggles faced by the City of Ottawa and its police in dealing with the protest. Testimonies revealed that negotiations between the police liaison team and convoy organizers to relocate the protest were hindered by the then-police chief. The failure to move protester vehicles led to inadequate police resources. The agreement between organizers and the city was seen as a success by the general manager of emergency and protective services, but the police reneged on it. The trial also addresses the question of whether eight Ottawa residents and business owners should testify. The defence argues it is not relevant, while the Crown believes their testimonies would reflect the impacts of the protest.
When the trial resumes, the Crown plans to hear from senior leadership of the Ottawa Police Service, city officials, police liaison teams, and witnesses from OC Transpo. Barber’s lawyer has considered making a Jordan application if delays continue, asserting the right to a speedy trial.