Nelson Mandela. Mahatma Gandhi. Vaclav Havel. And … Tamara Lich? In the wake of her recent arrest for violating the terms of her bail, one of the key architects of the occupation of downtown Ottawa earlier this year is being described by her supporters as a “political prisoner,” with the loopier corners of the internet suggesting her name belongs on the aforementioned list. There’s even talk that she’s going to be nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize.

There’s no way of actually confirming that since the Nobel Prize committee is very clear that “the names of the nominees and other information about the nominations cannot be revealed until 50 years later.” Even if Lich could find a university professor or a member of Parliament to nominate her for the prize, her odds of actually winning it are about the same as Donald Trump’s.

But that’s not what matters to her supporters and political enablers. They want to build her up as a martyr to freedom and a heroic figure of resistance against the supposed “tyranny” of a minority government and its handling of the COVID-19 pandemic. To them, she belongs in the same conversation as those other famous champions of freedom and justice.

That Lich is no Mandela should be abundantly clear to all but the most terminally obtuse people. Where he was fighting a political and economic system that entrenched white power and disenfranchised Black South Africans, Lich is resisting the efforts of a democratically elected government to help protect people from a pandemic.

Indeed, the recent news that she planned to trade on her claimed Métis heritage shows why any comparison to Mandela or Martin Luther King Jr. is ludicrous on its face. “It’s going to work in our favour,” she texted co-conspirator Chris Barber back in late January before the convoy arrived in Ottawa. “Playing the race card works both ways lol.”

In the end, of course, it didn’t exactly work out in their favour. Both Lich and Barber were charged with six offences, including obstructing police, counselling intimidation, and mischief. Lich then had her bail revoked late last month after she posed for a photo with Tom Marazzo, a fellow convoy organizer and someone with whom she was expressly forbidden from contacting, at the George Jonas Freedom Award gala where Lich was being honoured. "Ms. Lich is not prepared to follow court orders and is prepared to do whatever she feels like doing," Justice of the Peace Paul Harris said in his decision.

Lich’s allies in politics and the press were quick to jump to her defence. Lawyer and pundit Ari Goldkind described the decision to revoke her bail as “the weaponization of the tremendous power of the Crown & Police to stifle their ideological enemies.”

Even more moderate voices like former Maclean’s columnist Stephen Maher mooted her case. On Twitter, he described her as a “political prisoner” and wrote, “I’m reminded a little of the blowback I used to get when I wrote columns about Omar Khadr, and the failure of the Harper government to get him out of Gitmo, although the people chiding me then are not chiding me now over Lich.”

Opinion: "So, no, Tamara Lich is not a political prisoner, just like Canada isn’t a dictatorship," writes @natobserver columnist @maxfawcett. #TamaraLich #FreedomConvoy

That might be because they understand the obvious differences between the illegal torture of a child being held in U.S. custody and an adult who deliberately refuses to follow the clearly articulated terms of her own release. One is an insult to the rule of law, while the other, an act necessary to uphold it.

As constitutional scholar Emmett Macfarlane noted: “That she was released the first time — and that everyone else affiliated with the convoy and charged for their actions were granted bail (as far as I know) — and only denied bail after breaching conditions, seems to demonstrate fairness.”

If anything, the Crown and police have bent over backwards to accommodate Lich and her fellow convoy members. From the perspective of many Ottawa residents, including those who have joined a $306-million class action lawsuit against the convoy leaders, they bent over much further than they ever should have.

Remember: These are people who arrived in Ottawa with the stated intention of overthrowing a democratically elected government. When they didn’t get their way, they were allowed to occupy our nation’s capital for the better part of three weeks and indulge in collective acts of vandalism and harassment. Far from being violated or infringed, their freedoms were extensively catered to by law enforcement and allowed to run roughshod over those of almost everyone else in the process.

And while Lich’s supporters talk a big game about standing up for the rights of other Canadians, it’s hard to imagine them being so vocal if the person in question was, say, a land defender who blockaded a pipeline project. Their advocacy, in other words, is entirely conditional — and entirely dependent upon the politics of the person they’re defending.

So, no, Lich is not a political prisoner, just like Canada isn’t a dictatorship. She will have her day in court and her case will get a fair and full hearing. Her guilt or innocence will be determined by the facts of the case, not the political leanings of the judge who hears it.

Whether her supporters understand it or not, that’s still how things work in this country. The rest of us should remember what actual political prisoners look like, and what efforts to dilute that term for political purposes are really about.

Note: Other than Chris Barber, all of the convoy organizers were denied bail -- including Lich -- after their initial detention before being released with conditions

Updates and corrections

| Corrections policy
July 20, 2022, 08:36 am

A clarification note has been added to the end of this column explaining the precise terms of Tamara Lich's release on bail.

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I completely agree with Max's analysis and will only add: For Lich to win in court, we'd have to have emulated the American system, where judges make ideological decisions, rather than interpret the law.

Those of us concerned with the actual freedom of our country see what is happening south of our border....and suspect Tamara might be happier down there. Not liking the government your fellow citizens elected, doesn't give you a carte blanche to advocate violence or disregard the boundaries of civil behavior

Indeed. People always go into the weeds on every important topic so the bottom line needs to be the antidote of a"truth sandwich" wherein that is repeated at least as often as the emotional tagline that gets everyone fired up. And that is the intent to take down the government as with the Jan. 6th insurrection, so the sheer illegality and ultimately criminality.
Love the term "terminally obtuse" btw. These type of people will never "get it." Social media has emboldened them with their closed/limited minds to feel justified and RIGHTEOUS in imposing their narrow, anarchic, and entirely destructive vision on the rest of us, like the banality of evil that is pro-life advocates. Fortunately we have had the rule of law to rely on here still, but note that in the States that's been superceded. A cautionary tale to say the least.
Other than the truth sandwich idea, the current congressional hearings are another example of how to tackle the massive misinformation problem. I heard someone say that they have intentionally been structured more like a series on TV with cliff-hangers and relevant, but very much behind-the-scenes whistle-blower witnesses like Cassidy Hutchinson. They hope to attract a few more people by clearly reconstructing what actually happened, padded by many unknown but damning details. It's quite riveting to watch and satisfying to see the full truth unfurled. It's what the best people long for, always.

What I—and, I think, many others—find disturbing is when the law isn’t enforced, either during or immediately after the event, never mind the long and winding road of judicial process.

I recall thinking while watching the 2019 “United We Roll” truckers’ protest convoy that placards and truck-mounted billboards depicting the PM hung by the neck dead over blazons of “Traitor!” and “Treason!” were the epitome of indictable hate-speech crimes. Maybe because then-CPC leader of the Opposition, Andrew Scheer, allowed himself to be captured by news media cameras while gambolling along in front of these disturbingly hateful displays—apparently undisturbed, himself—that this particular hate-speech was tolerated in the same way parliamentarians are immune from charges of defamation when expressed in their assemblies, but usually such is accompanied by the rejoinder: “I invite the Member opposite to repeat those words outside this chamber” as a dare never accepted. Yet the PM or any politician, needn’t have responded to the UWR criminal acts themselves: it happens to be against the law, no matter who commits them or against whom they are targeted. Why didn’t police at least make a few arrests in 2019’s UWR protest and get the process going? We’re they or their alleged political masters afraid of being branded anti-freedom? Pft! They were gonna get accused of that in any event.

Arguably, tolerance of these, to me, blatant examples of targeted hate-speech encouraged the principals of the “Freedom Convoy” to test limits of the law even further, two years later.

The “Freedom Convoy” fiasco can’t be totally blamed on influence from the USA: by 2019 (and, certainly by 2020, after the January 6th insurrection in the Washington Capitol) we were all well aware of out-of-control partisan political discourse down there and how influences copy-cat radicals up here. Police could have been and should have been better prepared to at least take a lesson from Jan-6 when the February “Freedom Convoy” rolled into Ottawa.

The judge in the Lich case seems to have it correct, and we can see justice being done in a way that, hopefully, will deter others from what looks like a steady escalation of hateful public discourse. Pierre Poilievre will certainly sleep in the same kitty-litter box he’s sharing with radical-right goon squads he marches with, but that’s neither any comfort for victims immediately threatened (for whom the justice system moves way too slow without prompt police action) nor any kind of effective deterrent. I’m not so much concerned with sentencing as most law-and-order wonks are, or punishments meted in context of individual responsibility the way ultra-libertarians interpret it, but rather more with the prudence of nipping things in the bud and, again, the large-majority-community seeing justice being done. Would the criminal occupation of the Capital have gotten as out of hand—indeed to the point of imposing the Emergencies Act—if police had done more than merely issue parking tickets as fascist hooligans threatened residents’ persons, damaged their properties, and pissed on national monuments while brandishing Nazi and Confederate battle flags? What were they waiting for? Did they conspire to force the government to impose the E-Act for some reason?

In any case, Lich’s (and others’) prosecutions (ongoing) probably had a calming effect on this year’s Canada Day celebrations on Parliament Hill: police only had to make four arrests!

This growing habit of dereliction of duty has been bugging me ever since the 2012 G-20 protest in Toronto when law enforcement failed to be wary enough of cellphone-cam recordings capturing dodgy enforcement tactics like “kettling” (inflicted at the time), like police were in the killing of Robert Dziekanski at Vancouver airport in 2007, and the beating of Rodney King in LA back in 1991 which provoked the massive Los Angeles Race Riot. Police had become conspicuously camera shy during the 2011 Vancouver Stanley Cup riot, having been warned, as we later learned, by their chief not to be caught on camera busting any heads or splitting any lips: police instead formed a shield-wall but did not advance while rioters right in front of them inflicted $5 million damage in the vicinity of the hockey arena (in this case, police rather used cameras against rioters, safely assembling solicited footage in order to make arrests long after the fires had been snuffed). These and revelations of previous and ongoing police corruption and brutality have, I think, made police shutter-shy, if not spitefully uncooperative with conduct reformation attempts. But that’s another issue.

The radical right seems to be daring authorities to create a special speech-control squad. But Lich and her ilk are not so special anymore, and the hate-speech attendant with their other wacko demands already has laws which ordinary police are supposed enforce.

Let us not ever confuse which country we’re living in—not like Lich’s husband who complained to the court at her initial bail hearing that her “constitutional amendment rights” were being offended (Canada’s Constitution doesn’t have anything like US constitutional amendments). Just because ordinarily ultra-litigious Americans are now too afraid to sue defamers like Donald F tRump (who loves to file such suits while committing the worst defamations known in American politics), doesn’t mean we Canadians have to follow them or their fifth-column of far-right radicals up here to Canada. But it shouldn’t have to rely on private, civil action. Hate-speech that attended both protest convoys is already a crime, and crimes are supposed to be prosecuted by the state.

Good points about just enforcing existing laws, period, and also about the skittishness on the part of the police, of whom far too much is expected already. In Ottawa they were as good as the military many were hoping for, and they kept July 1st whole.
And on the progression, for sure, raising tolerance bit by bit, which is what has happened with our public discourse generally.
Atlantic magazine has an issue recently with the headline, "Jan. 6th was Practice."

Thank you for this analysis Max and I totally agree. However, it is disturbing that the far-right is gaining so much traction in Canada, I guess largely through misinformation on social media and appealing to people's baser instincts (fear, hate etc.).

And I'm deeply concerned about Pierre Poilievre's rising popularity and his capitalizing on the false idea that Canadians need more "freedom," when in fact Canada is one of the most free countries in the world. I assume Poilievre is using these tactics to gain political power, not for the best interests of Canadians. He is becoming a danger to society just like Donald Trump was.

Yes great article indeed! I think Max hit it right on. I wondered who gave them permission to act as they did, it just wasn't the "Canadian way" of doing things, hateful, prejudicial, trouble-making, noisy, harassing, gun-toting --they called themselves Canadians representing Canadians--it smacked of the U.S. from the beginning. We were watching but we weren't buying--why would any leader sit down with them when they're threatening our PM? Go home and take your guns with y'all and your high-financed temper tantrum.

When a protest resorts to causing harm, it loses its integrity.

lol. Obviously a slow news day.

Tomorrow, how's about I put two sugars in my tea and really give the country something to talk about?

You know how to reach me!


Do yourself a favour Ken. Try your tea without sugar. Its baaad for you.

Exactly my point, Lynn.

You can see the national implications of the extra strain on the healthcare system following from my misinformed choice of sweetener.


Happy Friday!

Your point being?

Does everyone reading National Observer check their sense of humour at the door before entering?

My point was that this article was a waste of time, for Pete's sake. But I understand that Max needs to keep up his daily wordcount.


I don't know what is more horrifying. That the Conservative Party now reflects the interests of far right wackaloons like Tamara or that a certain "mainstream" journalist (who isn't among the usual suspects at the National Post) tweeted that Tamara is a political prisoner, then doubled down when the inevitable backlash hit. We have a problem when journalists people are supposed to trust start being apologists for far right criminals who refuse to take responsibility for their own actions when they breach their own bail conditions.