If the convoy protesters built a medieval-style cathedral to their movement, Tamara Lich would surely get her own prominent stained-glass window, as their patron saint. It would depict a snow-swept downtown Ottawa street, with Ms. Lich, the self-described “mother hen,” surrounded by admirers offering tearful hugs and thanks for restoring their hope in a country that had gone badly awry.
When she testified at the Public Order Emergency Commission this week, it was clear why Ms. Lich was not only a central leader of the convoy, but the face the protesters wished to present to the world. Pat King, on the other hand, also testified this week, and it was equally apparent why he was both a magnetic figure and one that savvier convoy leaders wanted stricken from their record.
In contrast to her combative swagger during the protest, at the inquiry Ms. Lich came across as precise, polished and self-deprecating, but also razor-sharp and unapologetic in deking around glaring inconsistencies. Mr. King, on the other hand, is an admitted “hothead” who was, then and now, all noise, chaos and gleeful belligerence. It was almost touchingly obvious when Mr. King was being dishonest or feeling uncomfortable; it was coolly subtle when Ms. Lich was in the same mode.
Most Canadians were introduced to Ms. Lich in a press conference in the early days of the Ottawa protest, when convoy lawyer Keith Wilson identified her as “the spark that lit this fire.” In his testimony earlier this week, Mr. Wilson described in beatific tones the interactions on the streets of Ottawa that showed Ms. Lich in her natural leadership role. “It was remarkable, the people that would come up and stop her and politely ask if they could have a hug,” he said. “And the tears would just start to flow.”
In her own testimony, Ms. Lich minimized the idea that she played a particularly important role and emphasized repeatedly how “overwhelmed” she felt as the protest blew up beyond anything she could have imagined. “I came to see myself as part of a team,” she said, speculating that she might have been perceived as a leader because she handled the fundraising and appeared in videos. “But all I wanted to do was help.”
Mr. King, in contrast, seemed to want to be seen as a Godfather-like figure who could rile up big audiences and energy on Facebook and Instagram, and who was willing to aim his spotlight at whoever needed it. With a studied casualness, Mr. King talked about lending his support to the convoy as plans took shape.
“I said, ‘Okay, well, I’ll do everything I can to help you, I’ll give you the platform. … Because I see what you’re doing is absolutely prophetic,’ ” he said. “Finally, the hard-working blue-collar people of Canada were going to stand up.”
But as negative news coverage accumulated around videos in which he threatened violence or spouted racist opinions, convoy organizers including Ms. Lich decided they had to cut him loose. This week, Ms. Lich recounted a conversation in which she told him not to come to Ottawa, though in his testimony, Mr. King flatly denied that he was told any such thing.
In his version of events, those videos were misleadingly edited in an effort to discredit him or fit a preferred media narrative. When a lawyer at the commission queued up a compilation of his most controversial rants, Mr. King said he couldn’t wait for the chance to defend himself, but his face made his words a lie. “Trudeau, someone’s gonna make you catch a bullet one day,” Mr. King barked onscreen in the first clip. He then told the rest of the government that someone was going to “do ya’s in.”
In the hearing room, Mr. King rifled through a grab-bag of explanations for the video: He never said someone would get shot; he was only offering a general warning about rampant mental-health problems and pushing people too far; he had just been refused boarding for a flight when he filmed that. “You ever get in an argument with your parents and you get mad and you say things you don’t wish you said, like you regret saying that?” he said. “That’s one of my moments.”
During Ms. Lich’s questioning, a lawyer asked why, if she knew people saw her as a leader, she didn’t tell her fellow protesters to lay off the air horns that were tormenting downtown residents. Ms. Lich responded that her Facebook profile had been disabled, so she couldn’t post a video saying as much, but also, “I never really considered it because I left that type of stuff up to the captains.”
The last thing most Canadians heard Ms. Lich say in Ottawa was “Hold the line!” as police bundled her off into the snowglobe darkness the night she was arrested. On Friday before the commission, Paul Champ, lawyer for the downtown residents and businesses, pressed her repeatedly on the same point: If that was your rallying cry, how can you claim you were encouraging people to leave once it became clear the protest was illegal?
“Well, you know, that’s a matter of perspective,” Ms. Lich said. “My perspective on ‘Hold the line’ means stay true to your values in the face of diversity.”
For all their differences, there were a few big things on which Ms. Lich and Mr. King agreed, along with virtually every other convoy organizer who testified this week. They both expressed a sort of remorseful puzzlement that people in Ottawa felt inconvenienced or threatened by the convoy, because they maintained the protesters never intended to bother anyone.
They also insisted that from the inside, the whole thing was one big emotional bouncy castle. “I’ve never seen anything more loving and peaceful in my life,” Mr. King said with awe. “It was Woodstock.”
Ms. Lich called the convoy “the biggest lovefest I’ve ever participated in.”
Even though Mr. King was banished to the wings in the convoy’s own self-mythology, he said something this week that seemed like an important distillation of how his fellow protesters saw themselves, as compared with the exhausted and enraged residents of Ottawa, or anyone else watching from across the country and not honking in support.
A commission lawyer asked Mr. King at one point about a video in which he chortled that it was “pretty hilarious” that people in the protest zone hadn’t slept for 10 days. Mr. King at first mumbled half an apology, before doubling down on the idea that it was hilarious.
“You see, we’d been locked down for two years, and people are complaining that they heard horns for 10 days?” he said incredulously, turning to appeal to the audience in the hearing room, most of whom were convoy supporters. “Did they remember what we went through for the last two years?”
Despite all the questions thrown this week at Mr. King and Ms. Lich and others, no one asked them what made them think the loss and anxiety and rage and exhaustion of the pandemic had happened only to them. Everyone hated the slow strangulation of the past two years – it’s just that most people expressed it in tones quieter than an air horn.