By Laura Osman in Ottawa
Tamara Lich’s frequent use of the “Freedom Convoy” rallying cry to “hold the line” doesn’t imply that she was encouraging illegal activity, the protest organizer’s lawyer told court Tuesday.
Lich’s lawyer Eric Granger made the point as he argued that Lich and fellow organizer Chris Barber should not be considered co-conspirators in their criminal trial.
The two were among the most high-profile organizers of the early 2022 demonstrations that gridlocked streets in downtown Ottawa in protest against COVID-19 public-health restrictions.
The Crown has said it intends to prove that Lich and Barber worked together so closely that evidence against one should apply to both. The pair exerted influence over the massive crowds and urged them to “hold the line” as police tried to clear the streets, prosecutors argue, making the rallying cry a focal point of the trial.
Lich and Barber are both facing charges of mischief, intimidation, among several other charges. Barber is also charged with counselling others to disobey a court order.
The phrase was used on the “Freedom Convoy 2022” Facebook page before the protesters even arrived in Ottawa, and long before any crimes were alleged to have occurred, Granger argued.
At one point during the police action, as Lich was arrested and led away in handcuffs, someone shouted at her to “hold the line.” In an exchange caught on camera, she repeated the phrase back as she was walked to a waiting police cruiser.
“Any suggestion that ‘hold the line’ is to be inferred to be something nefarious is entirely speculative,” Granger argued.
The Crown closed its case last week, after taking the court through the testimony of several witnesses and dozens of social media posts that showed how the “Freedom Convoy” unfolded over the course of three weeks in early 2022.
Shouts of “hold the line” were audible in many protest videos, including from Lich, Barber, police and others. The videos also show that the organizers called for a peaceful, unified and loving demonstration.
In those videos, Lich and Barber both identified themselves as leaders and organizers of the protest, though the defence argues the Freedom Convoy consisted of several factions.
“You can’t refer to it as one entity,” said Justice Heather Perkins-McVey, who pointed to similar protests at border crossings and provincial legislatures across the country at the time.
Granger said the convoy was fragmented even in Ottawa.
The Crown, he argued, hasn’t presented enough evidence to establish that Lich and Barber were working together for a common unlawful purpose, or that Lich had anything to do with anything illegal.
“There’s simply an absence of evidence that Ms. Lich is linked to any common unlawful design,” Granger said. If anything, the opposite is true, he added: “She tried to avoid anything nefarious happening.”
The fact that only Barber is charged with counselling to disobey a court order is a “tacit admission” that the two weren’t always working in tandem, he said.
Barber’s lawyer was expected to address the conspiracy allegation later Tuesday before the Crown makes its closing argument Wednesday.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 28, 2023
Banner image via The Canadian Press