Defence lawyers who represent two central organizers of the Ottawa trucker convoy have asked the judge presiding over their clients’ criminal trial to reject a group of Crown witnesses, including a downtown resident who is also the lead plaintiff in a separate proposed class-action lawsuit.
The trial of Tamara Lich and Chris Barber began last Tuesday. Ms. Lich and Mr. Barber face charges of mischief, obstructing police and intimidation, as well as one charge of counselling for each of those three offences. In addition, Mr. Barber faces a charge of counselling others to disobey a court order.
The two were charged criminally as a result of their involvement in the convoy demonstrations, which saw big rig trucks become entrenched in Ottawa’s downtown core in early 2022 for more than three weeks. Demonstrators said they were vocalizing opposition to vaccination mandates and some were expressing anti-government sentiments.
During proceedings on Monday, defence lawyers told court there is no need to hear from nine witnesses on the Crown’s proposed list of 22 people it intends to call to testify.
The witnesses in question include Ottawa residents and representatives of local businesses as well as the city’s transportation agency, OC Transpo.
Ms. Lich’s lawyer Lawrence Greenspon told Justice Heather Perkins-McVey that nine witnesses do not need to be called to testify because there has been an admission already been made in writing and signed by his client, along with Mr. Barber.
Speaking outside of the courthouse, Mr. Greenspon said the defence has admitted there were individuals who interfered with the enjoyment of property of the residents of downtown Ottawa and some of the businesses.
“I mean, we all know where this is going,” he said, in reference to the Crown’s attempt to call the witnesses.
“This is going to be the ‘Oh, woe is me. Look what happened to me, how my life was impacted. Look how my business suffered.’”
Should that evidence be allowed in the trial, Mr. Greenspon said the defence is entitled to call businesses that prospered during the convoy and individuals who “had no problems at all with the Freedom Convoy.”
“Do we really want to do that?” he said. “The trial will never end if … that’s the way it goes.”
The Crown witness list includes Zexi Li, a federal public servant and downtown resident. Ms. Li is also the lead plaintiff in a proposed $300-million class-action lawsuit put forward on behalf of Ottawa businesses and residents who say they suffered harms as a result of the trucker convoy demonstrations.
Ms. Li appeared before a public inquiry last fall looking into the Liberal government’s decision to invoke the federal Emergencies Act in response to the protests. She told the commission that what she saw on the streets of downtown Ottawa in early 2022 was akin to a “lawless world.”
The Ottawa trucker demonstrations prompted one of the largest police operations in the country’s history after protesters declined to leave despite calls from police officials to do so.
Assistant Crown prosecutor Siobhain Wetscher told court Monday that the prosecution respectfully declined the admission from defence counsel. The Crown is able to present evidence for the judge to consider, she added.
Judge Perkins-McVey has yet to make a decision on whether court will hear from the witnesses in question.
Court also heard Monday from Ottawa Police Sergeant Joanne Pilotte, who was called to testify by the Crown. Sgt. Pilotte was asked by Crown prosecutor Tim Radcliffe about screen captures of the Freedom Convoy Facebook page.
Mr. Radcliffe also asked Sgt. Pilotte about a TikTok video featuring Ms. Lich talking about the convoy. In the recording, Ms. Lich can be heard saying that people have to stick together and remain unified. She also called for individuals to keep spreading love and to keep actions peaceful.
There have already been questions about how the trial is going to unfold.
On Friday, Justice Perkins-McVey said she was looking at additional dates. She warned proceedings could be jeopardized after defence counsel raised concerns about the timing of disclosures and trial fairness.
The judge also said there was a need to ensure the trial’s playing field is as even as it can be and that everyone is aware of the legal arguments being made. If things continue in the same fashion, she said, “we are going to be in for some serious problems.”
“There’s potential risk of this case going off the rails.”
Convoy protests: Tamara Lich and Chris Barber trial
The latest:Tamara Lich and Chris Barber were at the forefront of the convoy protest that rolled into Ottawa on Jan. 29, 2022. As leaders, they encouraged supporters blocking the downtown to both 'hold the line' and protest peacefully. On Feb. 17, 2022, they were arrested. Now they are standing trial for their actions.
The protests:Look back at the protests: Why an anti-vaccine-mandate trucker convoy called the Freedom Rally drove across Canada to Ottawa. Plus, the photos that defined the protests.
The public inquiry:In response to the protests, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau declared a national emergency. This decision triggered a public inquiry that lasted 10 months and found Trudeau's response was justified. Globe reporters shared five key take-aways from the final report plus, the inquiry's most interesting revelations, as told by its text messages.
The bigger picture:David Moscrop says the courts cannot be democracy's last, best hope. Stephanie Carvin says the tale of two convoys exposes Canada's divisions.
Follow Kristy Kirkup on Twitter: @kkirkupOpens in a new window