Support journalism that lights the way through the climate crisis

Goal: $100k

The evidence put forward by the Crown and defence in the criminal trial of two prominent "Freedom Convoy" organizers is so similar, it reflects something of a Rorschach test for how people feel about the massive protest, said criminologist Michael Kempa.

The trial is set to reconvene Wednesday after a two and a half week break, and has so far focused largely on the social media posts of Tamara Lich and Chris Barber. The two are co-accused for their role in organizing and allegedly orchestrating the events that unfolded in the streets of Ottawa in early 2022.

Videos played by both the Crown and the defence show appeals by Barber and Lich to keep the protest peaceful, calling it a movement motivated by love and thanking police for ensuring public safety as they demonstrated against COVID-19 public health measures.

The videos also show Lich and Barber call for people to come to Ottawa and "hold the line," even as police ordered protesters to leave downtown streets.

"All of this video evidence that's been submitted by both sides support essentially divergent arguments," said Kempa, an associate professor with the University of Ottawa.

Lich and Barber led a protest convoy to the capital, where demonstrators entrenched themselves for weeks, creating what some protesters described as a "festival-like" atmosphere and several Ottawa politicians and residents called an occupation.

No one disputes that the protest was disruptive, or that laws were broken over the three weeks protesters blocked intersections around Parliament Hill and nearby residential neighbourhoods.

"I think the evidence is similar, both from the Crown and from our side in terms of the video evidence, because there's very little question about what actually took place," Lich's lawyer Lawrence Greenspon said last month after the court adjourned for the break.

"There were demonstrators, who did interfere with the lawful enjoyment of some residents' property in the downtown core. And as a result, businesses suffered as well. We've admitted that."

'Freedom Convoy' trial evidence a Rorschach test for attitudes about protest: expert. #CDNPoli #FreedomConvoy #RorschachTest #EmergenciesAct

The case hinges on whether Lich and Barber committed any illegal activity, and whether they used their influence in the protest to encourage others to break the law.

Lich and Barber face charges of mischief, obstructing police, and encouraging other protesters to commit mischief and intimidation.

When court resumes Wednesday, presiding Justice Heather Perkins-McVey is expected to rule on whether eight local Ottawa residents will be able to testify, or not.

The defence argued there is no need to hear from those witnesses, since they had no dealings with Barber or Lich. The witnesses can only share their personal observations during the protest, and the defence has already admitted that illegal behaviour took place.

The Crown has maintained that it prefers to call its case as it sees fit and wants local witnesses to tell the court how disruption, intimidation and obstructions caused by the protest manifested on the streets.

Kempa said it will be up to the Crown to show the court how all the evidence proves Lich and Barber were in control of the crowds and encouraged them break the law.

"And the threshold in a criminal trial is obviously the highest threshold," said Kempa.

The Crown is expected to lay out how the evidence supports its theory at the end of the trial.

The trial was initially scheduled to last only 16 days but, with only three days left to go, the Crown seems nowhere near the conclusion of its case.

Perkins-McVey has been working with the Crown and defence to set aside more dates to complete the trial, but so far none have been scheduled.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 10, 2023.

Keep reading

If Lich and Barber had really cared about the negative effect the Convoy was having on Ottawa residents and businesses (let alone our democracy!), they could have told their supporters to go home. Instead they told them to "hold the line." Despicable. To claim that they weren't responsible (or at least partly responsible) for all that disruption is ludicrous. They should receive significant jail time.