OTTAWA — The criminal trial of “Freedom Convoy” organizers Tamara Lich and Chris Barber begins today, as they answer charges related to their role in the protest that threw Canada’s capital city into chaos last year.
Lich and Barber were part of the original group that mobilized a convoy of big rigs and other trucks and cars to drive to Ottawa in winter 2022 to protest COVID-19 public health restrictions and the Liberal government.
Hundreds of vehicles blocked downtown streets and thousands of protesters entrenched themselves for three weeks, hosting all-night parties with open fires, honking their horns at all hours and filing the streets with the smell of diesel.
The protest inspired similar demonstrations at several international border crossings and precipitated the first invocation of the federal Emergencies Act since the legislation was created in 1988.
Lich and Barber are co-accused, both charged with mischief, obstructing police, counselling others to commit mischief and intimidation.
The trial is expected to last at least 16 days.
Barber, who owns a trucking company in Saskatchewan, is also charged with counselling others to disobey a court order that banned loud honking in Ottawa’s downtown core.
The trial must remain focused on the specific accusations again Lich and Barber, Lich’s lawyer Lawrence Greenspon told the court during a pretrial hearing this summer.
It must not, he said, be a criminal trial of the convoy protest writ large.
Barber testified before a federal inquiry last year that the idea for the protest was initially born out of a conversation between him and another truck driver over the social media platform TikTok.
The two truckers had vented about federal vaccine mandates for cross-border truck drivers and spoke about launching a protest.
As the weeks passed, more and more people became involved in planning a demonstration, and the aim of the protest expanded to include the elimination of all pandemic public-health measures and, for some factions of the protest, the overthrow of Canada’s elected government.
Lich, a former member of the western independence movement in Alberta, joined the growing group of organizers to help them with their social-media presence and started an online fundraiser that ultimately garnered $10.1 million in donations.
She gradually became a figurehead of the movement. Just a few days into the protest, Keith Wilson, the organizers’ lawyer, introduced her as “the spark that lit the fire” of the Freedom Convoy.
Both Lich and Barber were arrested on the eve of a massive operation to forcibly remove protesters from the streets around Parliament Hill, after the Liberals declared a national emergency under the Emergencies Act and approved special powers for police.
Barber was immediately released on bail, but Lich was held in jail for a total of 49 days before her trial.
Lich was released and allowed to return home to Alberta with a long list of conditions after a successful appeal about a month after her arrest.
She was arrested again on a Canada-wide warrant in June when the Crown accused her of breaking her bail conditions, after she was photographed with another protest organizer at an event in Toronto.
She was ordered to remain in jail until her trial, but successfully appealed that decision and was released once again July.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 5, 2023.
Laura Osman and Stephanie Taylor, The Canadian Press