‘Freedom Convoy’ Trial Highlights Divergent Views on Protests: Experts Weigh In

'Freedom Convoy' Trial Highlights Divergent Views on Protests: Experts Weigh In
Tamara Lich arrives at the courthouse for trial in Ottawa on Monday, Sept. 18, 2023. THE CANADIAN PRESS/ Patrick Doyle

The criminal trial of two notable organizers of the ‘Freedom Convoy‘, Tamara Lich and Chris Barber, has taken a new turn, with both the Crown and the defence presenting remarkably similar evidence. The parallel nature of the evidence has raised intriguing questions about societal perspectives on protests.

Rorschach Test for Protest Attitudes

Leading criminologist Michael Kempa described the trial evidence as somewhat of a “Rorschach test” for public sentiment about the massive protest. “All of this video evidence that’s been submitted by both sides support essentially divergent arguments,” said Kempa, an associate professor at the University of Ottawa.

Focus on Social Media

The trial, set to reconvene after a two-and-a-half-week hiatus, has been honing in on the social media activities of Lich and Barber. Both are co-accused of orchestrating the significant events that took place on Ottawa’s streets in early 2022.

Videos from both the Crown and Defence depict Barber and Lich urging protestors to maintain peace. The footage captures their description of the protest as a movement “motivated by love,” extending gratitude towards the police for upholding public safety during the demonstration against COVID-19 health protocols.

However, the videos also reveal their appeals to the public to gather in Ottawa and “hold the line,” despite police advisories urging protesters to vacate downtown areas.

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 associate criminology professor Michael Kempa. Tamara Lich arrives for her trial at the courthouse in Ottawa, on Tuesday, Sept. 19, 2023. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Justin Tang

A Capital Standoff

The protest convoy led by Lich and Barber saw demonstrators establishing their presence in the capital for an extended duration. Eyewitness accounts describe the atmosphere as “festival-like,” but many Ottawa politicians and locals dubbed it an “occupation.”

It’s undisputed that the protest caused significant disruptions, with laws being violated over three weeks as demonstrators blocked key intersections around Parliament Hill and surrounding residential locales.

Legal Implications

Both Lich and Barber are confronted with charges of mischief, obstructing police activities, and inciting other protesters to indulge in mischief and intimidation.

Lawrence Greenspon, Lich’s lawyer, weighed in on the evidence presented. “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,” he said. “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.”

The trial’s core contention revolves around whether Lich and Barber were directly involved in any unlawful activities and if they leveraged their influence to spur others to violate the law.

Upcoming Court Proceedings

When proceedings resume this Wednesday, all eyes will be on Justice Heather Perkins-McVey, who is anticipated to decide on the testimonies of eight local Ottawa residents.

The defence posits that these testimonies are unnecessary, given the witnesses’ lack of direct interactions with Barber or Lich. In contrast, the Crown remains steadfast in its preference to shape its case as deemed fit and hopes that local witnesses can convey the on-ground effects of the protest disruptions, intimidations, and obstructions.

Kempa emphasized the high threshold of criminal trials, stating that the onus will be on the Crown to convince the court that all the evidence unequivocally points to Lich and Barber’s control over the crowds and their alleged encouragement of law violations.

While the trial was initially earmarked for a 16-day duration, with just three days remaining, the Crown’s case conclusion appears distant. Perkins-McVey is in discussions with both parties to determine additional dates for the trial’s completion.