A lawyer at the Emergencies Act inquiry questioned convoy leader Tamara Lich’s credibility on Friday as she contradicted documented evidence and maintained she was never told that she needed to leave Ottawa or that the protests were illegal.
Ms. Lich also told the inquiry that she didn’t oppose a court injunction against honking, despite swearing an affidavit arguing against the injunction; maintained that she would have followed a court injunction directing the protesters to leave despite not following a previous one on honking; and said her repeated messages to “hold the line” didn’t mean protesters should stay in Ottawa but rather to stay “true to your values.”
Over almost five hours of contradictory testimony on Thursday and Friday, Ms. Lich recounted her role in the protests, which began with her organizing a GoFundMe campaign in mid-January and ended with her arrest on Feb. 17. On Friday she told the Public Order Emergency Commission that she faces criminal charges including “mischief, counseling mischief, intimidation, counseling, intimidation, and a few more.” She is a key figure from the more than three week protests in Ottawa, which participants and leaders say was a unifying event, but police say was rife with community violence.
Thousands of people and hundreds of big rigs, pick-up trucks and other vehicles began to arrive in Ottawa on Jan. 28. The vehicles blockaded several streets around Parliament Hill and in nearby residential neighbourhoods until they were cleared out in a massive police operation which began on Feb. 18.
In an effort to end the protests, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau invoked the Emergencies Act on Feb. 14. The inquiry is tasked with determining whether the federal government followed the law when it made the emergency declaration, which granted it sweeping powers.
While in Ottawa protesters organized supply lines of fuel for the trucks parked in front of Parliament Hill, held open-pit fires on street corners, indiscriminately set off fireworks beside office buildings and condos, and blared their horns at all times of the day and night. Ms. Lich told the inquiry that it was never her intention to disrupt the lives of Ottawa residents or gridlock the city.
She maintained that position Friday despite being presented with a text message between her and another leader, Chris Barber, on Jan. 30 in which she wrote the convoy “command centre” had come up with a “strategy to gridlock the city.”
“I can tell you what I remember, which obviously isn’t much,” Ms. Lich told Paul Champ, a lawyer representing a coalition of Ottawa businesses and residents. She said she doesn’t use the term gridlock and said the texts show it “was not up to me.”
Ms. Lich also maintained that despite personal interactions with police and public notices advising protesters to leave, she was not directed to leave Ottawa.
“You must leave the area now. Anyone blocking streets, or assisting others in the blocking streets, are committing a criminal offence and you may be arrested,” the Ottawa police said in one of two notices to protesters on Feb. 16.
David Migicovsky, a lawyer representing the Ottawa police presented evidence that showed the police liaison team spoke with Ms. Lich and other convoy organizers at the Swiss Hotel on Feb. 16. The police log shows they told the leaders “people who are helping (logistics) can also be charged and held accountable” and said the police “advised them to depart and message this out to others.”
The log says Ms. Lich was crying and the convoy leaders told police the message would " harden participants’ resolve” and believed it was a tactic from a dictatorial government. The police log ends saying “it was reiterated that they vacate asap.”
Mr. Migicovsky read the notes to Ms. Lich and said it was clear she was given the message. “I was never told I needed to leave,” she maintained but she also said she remembers the discussion with police and that she was upset and crying. She then conceded she thought the comments from police were only a suggestion.
Her testimony prompted a rebuke from the lawyer for the Ottawa police service, who accused her of remembering a self-serving chain of events.
“It seems to me your memory is selective,” Mr. Migicovsky said. “When I take you to something that implicates you, you have no memory of it.”
Brendan Miller, the lawyer representing Ms. Lich and some of the other convoy leaders objected to Mr. Migicovsky’s comment.
In earlier testimony Ms. Lich conceded to Mr. Champ that during the protest she did not follow a court injunction against the incessant honking that marked the first week of the protest. The court had ordered that she and other convoy leaders publicize the honking injunction on their social media channels. Ms. Lich said she never did.
In subsequent testimony, Ms. Lich told Mr. Miller that had she ever been given a court ordered injunction to move the trucks or leave, she would have complied.
“I would have obviously followed the injunction. I never intended or came here to break the law,” she said.
On Friday, the commission heard from Chris Deering and Maggie Hope Braun, two protesters who said they were improperly treated by police when they refused to leave the protest zone during the police operation to clear protesters out. However neither filed a complaint with the police watchdog. Both told the inquiry they believed that throughout the more than three week protest, demonstrators remained peaceful.
In response Emilie Taman, a lawyer representing a coalition of Ottawa residents and businesses, showed a compilation of photos and videos of the protests. The video showed protesters setting off fireworks near buildings; harassing hotel staff; giving Ottawa residents a “wake-up call” by blaring a truck horn; and ferrying jerry cans through downtown. Ms. Taman asked Ms. Hope Braun if she would be okay if such a demonstration took place outside her home. Ms. Hope Braun said she would.
With reports from The Canadian Press