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Tamara Lich told supporters to ‘hold the line’ over Emergencies Act, court hears

OTTAWA — Tamara Lich promised that “Freedom Convoy” demonstrators in downtown Ottawa would remain “peaceful but planted” as reports emerged that Prime Minister Minister Justin Trudeau was ready to invoke the Emergencies Act to end the protest, a courtroom heard Tuesday.

“No matter what you do, we will hold the line,” Lich, a figurehead in the “Freedom Convoy” movement and a key organizer of the protests, promised in a press conference on Feb. 14, 2022.

A video of the scene was played in an Ottawa courtroom on Tuesday, where the Crown is trying to prove that Lich and her fellow organizer, Chris Barber, exerted control and influence on the protest that unfolded over three weeks in Ottawa and ended with a massive police operation.

The sixth day of the trial marked the first time the court has seen examples appearing to show Lich encouraging protesters to Ottawa and remain there, even as police ordered them to leave.

Both Lich and Barber face charges of mischief, counselling others to commit mischief, intimidation and obstructing police in connection with their role in the “Freedom Convoy” that descended on downtown Ottawa last winter to protest COVID-19 restrictions and the Liberals.

The videos played in court Tuesday are not considered evidence in the trial, which is being heard by a judge alone. Lich and Barber’s defence lawyers plan to argue against admitting social media content gathered from the “Freedom Convoy 2022” Facebook page. The defence has made several arguments over the admissibility of evidence, which has slowed the process.

The online content presented in court shows Lich announced early in the protest that demonstrators would not leave until the government abolished COVID-19 vaccine mandates. Thousands of trucks started rolling into Ottawa on Jan. 28, 2022, blocking streets around Parliament Hill and in the surrounding residential neighbourhoods.

“Our departure will be based on the prime minister doing what is right,” Lich said in a recorded press conference on Feb. 3, 2022.

Nearly two weeks later, Lich posted a video reflecting on the protest and speaking about how she expected to be arrested, though her message to supporters remained much the same.

“I think it’s inevitable at this point, but I’ll probably be going somewhere tomorrow where I’ll be getting three square meals per day, and that’s OK,” Lich said through tears in a video livestreamed on the Facebook page on Feb. 16, 2022, two days after the Emergencies Act was invoked.

She had tears in her eyes as she watched it play in court on Tuesday.

“If you can come to Ottawa and stand with us, that would be fantastic. And if you can’t, pray for us,” Lich said in the video.

She signed off by saying: “I am not afraid, and we’re going to hold the line. Thank you. I love you guys.”

Other videos from the final days of the protest showed Lich repeating the phrase “hold the line.” She also said it on Feb. 17, when asked what her message to supporters would be if she were to be arrested.

She was arrested later that day, on the eve of a police operation to clear protesters from the streets. During her arrest, a supporter called out to Lich to “hold the line,” as she was led away in handcuffs. She repeated the words back before she was taken to a nearby police cruiser.

Crown prosecutor Tim Radcliffe took the court through 212 pages worth of posts and videos from the “Freedom Convoy 2022” Facebook page, including updates that convoy organizers gave to supporters.

Defence lawyers are demanding more information about how the Crown plans to use them to prove their case before they can be considered by the judge. 

In one video, Lich expressed support for blockades at the Ambassador Bridge international border crossing between Windsor, Ont., and Detroit, Mich.

“I wish we could take credit for the blockades, but we cannot,” Lich said in a video posted to the group’s Facebook page on Feb. 14.

“We are aware that Canadians nationwide are feeling inspired by the resolve of truckers in Ottawa.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 12, 2023.

Laura Osman, The Canadian Press