Videos posted on TikTok by Chris Barber, one of the key organizers of last year’s Ottawa trucker convoy, were the main focus of the prosecution Thursday in his joint criminal trial with fellow protest architect Tamara Lich, including one video in which he suggests demonstrators should blare their truck horns after a civil court had already barred them from doing so.
Mr. Barber and Ms. Lich, who orchestrated the convoy protest’s blockading of downtown Ottawa streets with big-rig vehicles in early 2022, are facing charges of intimidation, obstruction of police and mischief. They also face charges of counselling others to commit each of those three offences, and Mr. Barber is facing an additional charge of counselling others to disobey a court order.
Their lawyers have described the convoy, whose participants expressed opposition to pandemic mandates and the Trudeau government, as a “peaceful protest.” The group brought central Ottawa to a standstill for more than three weeks before being dispersed by police.
On Thursday, the court viewed a TikTok video that was created on Feb. 9, 2022, two days after an Ontario Superior Court justice granted a 10-day injunction that forbade protesters from sounding horns on the large vehicles they had parked on the city’s streets.
Jim Watson, who was Ottawa’s mayor during the convoy, said at the time that a peaceful protest had transformed into a siege, and that the non-stop horn blasts the city was experiencing were “tantamount to psychological warfare.”
In the video, Mr. Barber acknowledges the court-ordered honking ban. But he tells others to “grab that horn switch and don’t let go” if they see large numbers of police officers coming toward them.
The video is considered key to the Crown’s effort to prove that Mr. Barber counselled others to disobey a court order.
In another video played in court, Mr. Barber could be seen on Feb. 7, 2022 calling for people to “flood” the city, as he warned of police possibly moving in on protesters.
“If we go dark in Ottawa – if we go dark, meaning no more social media … that means their [police] operation is being deployed,” he says in the video, adding that the demonstration had been the world’s largest peaceful gathering and that there had been no violence.
“We have the government on their head right now … They’re trying to find some way to demonize us. They can’t. So if you see this, if this video gets to you, and we go dark all of a sudden, that means they’re here rounding us up. That means you need to get to Ottawa … you come and peaceful protest.”
The videos were collected by Ottawa Police Sergeant Joanne Pilotte, who was the fourth member of the service to be called as a Crown witness in the trial, which began Tuesday.
Social media content is expected to figure prominently in Mr. Barber and Ms. Lich’s trial. Mr. Barber was particularly active online during the course of the protest.
The demonstration ultimately prompted one of the largest police operations in the country’s history and resulted in many trucks being removed from key streets in Ottawa’s core.
Crown prosecutor Tim Radcliffe said Thursday that he anticipates the court will be presented with about five hours of video in total. As the TikTok videos were being played in court, Mr. Barber, who was wearing a short-sleeved plaid shirt and jeans, leaned forward and paused at times to write in a notebook.
The trial is not the first official attempt to reckon with fallout from the convoy. Last fall, hearings were held as part of a public inquiry into Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s decision in February, 2022 to invoke the never-before-used Emergencies Act as part of the government’s response to the protest.
In February of this year, Justice Paul Rouleau, who led that inquiry, released a report that determined the decision to invoke the act was appropriate.
Mr. Barber and Ms. Lich both still have loyal followings. And they continue to be the targets of criticism, including from residents and business owners in Ottawa’s downtown core whose lives were disrupted by the protest.
Separate from the criminal trial, there is a proposed $300-million class-action lawsuit under way on behalf of those who claim they suffered harm as a result of the actions of the demonstrators.
In his opening argument, presented earlier this week, Mr. Radcliffe told the court the Crown believes that Mr. Barber and Ms. Lich “crossed the line” and committed crimes. The case is not about their political views, he said.
Defence lawyers for Mr. Barber and Ms. Lich have said it’s important that the convoy itself not be put on trial.
The trial is expected to run into October. It is being presided over by Justice Heather Perkins-McVey.
With a report from the Canadian Press