LETHBRIDGE, Alta. — Two of four men charged with conspiracy to commit murder during the 2022 blockade at the Canada-U. S. border crossing near Coutts, Alta., have pleaded guilty to lesser charges.
Jerry Morin and Christopher Lysak entered the pleas in a Lethbridge courtroom Tuesday. The Alberta Court of King's Bench confirmed the pleas in an emailed statement.
The men were accused of conspiring to kill police officers at the blockade during a protest against COVID-19 vaccine mandates and other pandemic restrictions.
Lysak pleaded guilty to possession of a restricted firearm in an unauthorized place.
An agreed statement of facts says Lysak, who is from Lethbridge, learned about the convoy and decided to head to Coutts.
"He packed a suitcase and took his Remington rifle model 700 and ammunition bag so he could hunt coyotes if he found himself idle and bored," it says.
The court document says the RCMP started an investigation into the closure of the border and tried to identify the convoy leaders.
During the protest, the document says, Lysak was staying in a trailer in Coutts.
"On or about Feb. 10 or 11, 2022, Mr. Lysak emptied out his ammunition bag to use the bag for laundry and discovered that his Sig Sauer semi-automatic handgun was inside the bag," it says.
"Mr. Lysak had forgotten he had quickly placed his handgun in the bag when his daughters knocked on his bedroom door at home in Lethbridge before he left for Coutts. Mr. Lysak panicked and placed the handgun under a pillow in the trailer."
It says police executed a search warrant several days later and found a cache of firearms, including Lysak's semi-automatic handgun. It was loaded with a round in the chamber, says the document.
It says Lysak was arrested outside the main location where protesters had been gathering.
Lysak was sentenced to three years but will not serve more time as he received credit for time spent in pretrial custody.
Morin, who is from Olds, Alta., pleaded guilty to a charge of conspiracy to traffic firearms.
An agreed statement of facts in his case says he attended the blockade on a number of occasions between Feb. 9 and Feb. 14, 2022.
The document says Morin was asked by others to bring his "guitar and amplifier," which was coded language for firearms and ammunition. He agreed to do so, the document says.
Morin was sentenced to more than three years and was to be released from custody Tuesday after also getting credit for time served.
Both men were also given a weapons prohibition for 10 years.
Greg Dunn, the lawyer for Morin, said in a text message that his client has "steadfastly maintained from the very beginning that he played no part of any alleged conspiracy to murder police officers."
He said Morin is relieved and grateful that the initial charges have been withdrawn.
Dunn said the guilty plea does not suggest his client actually took firearms into Coutts.
Lysak's lawyer, Daniel Song, said in an email that his client also maintains his innocence regarding the charges he originally faced.
"However, he pleaded guilty this morning before Justice (Vaughan) Hartigan to possessing his licensed and registered handgun in a place that was not authorized. The offence was not on the indictment," Song said.
"At the conclusion of sentencing, all charges in the indictment were withdrawn against Mr. Lysak."
He added that his client did not admit to possessing his handgun for a dangerous purpose.
"He did not attend the Coutts protests with the intent to harm anyone," said Song.
"He admits that his firearm was loaded with ammunition at the time of police seizure but denies having loaded and chambered the gun."
Song said his client was to return home after being released Tuesday.
"He looks forward to rebuilding and moving on with his life with his family."
Song declined further comment given a jury trial is proceeding against the remaining two accused, Anthony Olienick and Chris Carbert.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 6, 2024.
— By Colette Derworiz in Calgary, with files from Bill Graveland
The Canadian Press