Convoy leader Pat King heads to trial

Freedom Convoy organizer Pat King appears as a witness at the Public Order Emergency Commission in Ottawa on Nov. 2, 2022. (Justin Tang/The Canadian Press - image credit)
Freedom Convoy organizer Pat King appears as a witness at the Public Order Emergency Commission in Ottawa on Nov. 2, 2022. (Justin Tang/The Canadian Press - image credit)

One of the most polarizing figures to gain notoriety during what became known as the Freedom Convoy in Ottawa more than two years ago will stand trial Monday, signalling the tail end of criminal proceedings that have dogged hundreds of individuals who participated in the historic protest.

Pat King, from Red Deer, Alta., is facing charges of mischief, intimidation, obstructing police, disobeying a court order and other offences for his role in the protest that gridlocked downtown for nearly a month in early 2022.

Arrested and jailed for five months before his release that summer, King is unlikely to serve more time behind bars if he is found guilty, given laws around credit from time served.

Like other prominent convoy leaders, King's trial is expected to draw a sizeable crowd outside the Ottawa Courthouse.

But unlike the trials of Tamara Lich and Chris Barber, King's defence won't be bankrolled by The Democracy Fund or the Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms — both well-mobilized entities with deep ties to libertarian and right-wing backers.

Similarly, many of the convoy supporters and even some of the original core organizers who once shouted slogans against vaccine mandates alongside King have abandoned or distanced themselves from the 46-year-old, who is known for making incendiary remarks.

He knows all this, perhaps better than anyone else.

"I'm about to go into the fight of my life," he told his social media audience on April 29.

Laurie Foster-MacLeod
Laurie Foster-MacLeod

Left to defend himself

King, who was granted permission to livestream online for fundraising purposes, admitted to supporters in that final video before he travelled to Ottawa that he's looking forward to the end of the legal ordeal so he could return to some normalcy.

"It's been hard," he told supporters.

A day later he posted on Facebook: "My lawyer just contacted me that we are sitting at 9037$ in donations just from last night . I cannot thank you enough !" he wrote.

Without financial backing from any major advocacy group, King has had to raise money mostly on his own, hosting events both in Alberta and Ontario.

Prior to his most recent fundraiser in early May, he said he was around $60,000 short of his goal. But King is hardly alone in his fight.

On Facebook alone, King still draws 339,000 followers, posting videos from events including a highly publicized one featuring Alberta premier Danielle Smith and former Fox News host Tucker Carlson in Calgary earlier this year.

An early organizer

King was brought in as an early planner of the Freedom Convoy, conceived by an ad-hoc group that connected online as a protest against vaccine mandates, in January 2022.

He had, after all, been involved in an earlier convoy to Ottawa. In 2019, he helped organize the United We Roll movement in support of Canada's oil and gas sector.

Inspired by protests in France over rising fuel costs, that event only attracted a few hundred people. But it set the stage for some of the challenges organizers of the Freedom Convoy would eventually encounter — notably, how the main message was quickly diluted by others vying for the microphone.

The Real Pat King/Facebook
The Real Pat King/Facebook

Like the much bigger lockdown of Ottawa in 2022, they included calls to arrest Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, as well as racist sentiments.

King made headlines almost immediately when thousands of truckers and protesters started rallying to head to Ottawa. His online fame soared, buoyed by his antics in Red Deer where he criticized COVID-19 mandates and protested against an anti-racism rally.

Various fundraisers launched in support of the Freedom Convoy received millions of dollars in pledges before they were shut down by the online platform hosting them.

One such effort, known as "Adopt-A-Trucker," was launched on Jan. 18, 2022. It was described as being "endorsed" by King, a testament to the weight his name carried among sympathizers.

He was also listed as a "road captain" for Alberta truckers.

King's sizeable online audience, his experience organizing protests and his bombastic live feeds as he travelled to Ottawa quickly turned him into a key figure of the protests.

His online presence became a must-watch for anyone keeping tabs on the convoy, and he used his influence to help coordinate demonstrations including a "slow roll" at the Ottawa International Airport.

Patrick Doyle/Reuters
Patrick Doyle/Reuters

Old videos resurface

Sensing his unpredictability and tendency to attract negative attention, however, Lich, Barber and others sought to distance themselves from King as the weeks-long protest continued. News media scrambled to determine who best represented the movement as competing voices vied for clout and credit.

As the public's attention on King intensified, some of his old videos resurfaced.

Snippets showed King mocking specific ethnicities, talking about the Anglo-Saxon race "being one of the strongest bloodlines," and warning: "Trudeau, someone is going to make you catch a bullet one day."

He has long maintained the videos were spliced and edited to make him look bad.

But his statements spread, furthering the idea that the Freedom Convoy was less about vaccine mandates and more a protest conceived and promoted by far-right characters.

Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press
Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press

King's controversial statements gained a national audience when CBC's The Fifth Estate aired an interview with King. King went ahead with the interview against the advice of Lich, Barber and others involved in organizing the protest.

But even before that, other organizers had raised concerns about King.

According to evidence presented at the Public Order Emergency Commission (POEC), which looked into the federal government's decision to use the Emergencies Act to break up the protest, Lich and Barber discussed trying to send King home even before the convoy's arrival in Ottawa.

By Jan. 26, concerns about his involvement were great enough to prompt more discussion about sending him home. King wouldn't end up returning to Alberta until several months later, however.

After cycling through lawyers, he was released in July 2022 and met by chants of "freedom" outside the Ottawa Courthouse. Conditions of his release included no more protesting or public assembly specifically related to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Freedom Convoy or anti-government demonstrations.

King's lawyer Natasha Calvinho later argued her client was too "notorious" to be tried in Ottawa and said King "was and still is more highly publicized than most other people involved in the Freedom Convoy."

The request to move his trial elsewhere was denied. He will face the judge alone in Ottawa.

Co-accused pleaded guilty, released

King was arrested while livestreaming on Feb. 18, 2022, and charged alongside his sidekick Tyson "Freedom George" Billings, who was often seen with King.

They were charged with two counts each of intimidation and obstructing police, and one count each of mischief, counselling to commit mischief, counselling to obstruct police, counselling intimidation, disobeying a court order and counselling to disobey a court order.

Billings pleaded guilty and was released from jail in June 2022. He pleaded guilty to one count of counselling to commit mischief, but the other charges were withdrawn.

Sentenced to six months of probation, he returned to his home in High Prairie, Alta., and has since continued to take part in convoy-adjacent protests.

King stayed in jail, service 150 days in all, telling his supporters privately he would fight his charges, and picking up more along the way.

Now, his opportunity has arrived.

"My heart and soul tell me that we will be victorious," he told supporters in his final video.

The trial is expected to sit for nine days, then break before a final week in mid-July.