Three members of a Freedom Convoy-related group based in Quebec called Farfaadas have been found guilty of mischief and conspiracy for blocking the Louis-Hippolyte-La Fontaine tunnel in March 2021.
Steeve Charland, a former leader of far-right group La Meute and current member of Farfaadas, his wife, Karol Tardif, and fellow group member Mario Roy appeared in a Montreal courtroom Thursday.
Quebec Court Judge Jean-Jacques Gagné rejected the trio's argument that they were exercising their right to freedom of expression in a peaceful protest.
Gagné said the clear intent of the blockade was to disturb and to provoke, and that the tunnel was not the appropriate place to do so.
Charland, Tardif and Roy slowed their vehicles down simultaneously, blocking the three northbound lanes of the tunnel on the evening of March 13, 2021. The protest itself was brief, lasting about five minutes. It was peaceful, but the action angered one motorist so much he smashed the lights of one of their cars with a hammer.
Charland, Tardif and Roy said their action was to protest mask mandates. Crown prosecutor Martin Bourgeois has recommended that Roy, who is seen as the blockade's instigator and has faced similar charges in the past, be sentenced to two years less a day in jail.
Roy also briefly participated in a tunnel blockade against police enforcement of COVID-19 health restrictions in December 2020.
Gagné appeared to rule out the possibility of a jail sentence for Charland and Tardif.
Bourgeois underlined that the verdict took into account the danger of blocking a bridge or tunnel, making it difficult to evacuate in case of an emergency.
Leaving the courtroom, Roy told reporters he would be appealing the ruling, saying they weren't denouncing health measures, but rather the enforcement of them by the government.
"We protested. For me it is a right legal, and I don't regret at all having protested to denounce police brutality … to denounce the realities of what was happening," he said.
Asked whether he intends to organize a new blockade, Mr. Roy said that "if necessary … it will be done differently and much bigger."
The group's next court appearance will be on April 19 for sentencing arguments.