Defence to argue for more information in 'Freedom Convoy' organizers' trial

OTTAWA — The criminal trial of two "Freedom Convoy" organizers resumed Thursday with legal sparring as the defence attempts to gain access to internal police communications.

The trial was stalled last week when the lawyers for Tamara Lich and Chris Barber asked for internal emails about the evidence that police disclosed in the case.

The defence teams received heavily redacted copies of the emails, the details of which the Ottawa Police Service says are protected by solicitor-client privilege.

Lich's Lawyer Eric Granger said it isn't clear from the redacted materials why certain sections are protected.

"We … are seeking to get access to as much as the context as we can to further attempts to unravel that mystery," Granger said, adding it is in the interest of his client to get to the bottom of it.

Lawyer Vanessa Stewart appeared in court to argue on behalf of the Ottawa Police Service, and said that some of the emails contain advice from the Crown that was shared between officers.

The Crown said at least one of the emails is not related to Lich and Barber's case.

The defence also wants to see what the police IT team told officers about a software upgrade for their cellphones, which appears to have wiped the data from the phones of at least two officers shortly after the protest ended.

So far, they have received only a completely blacked-out document about the software upgrade, which may have deleted messages between Barber and police liaison officer Const. Nicole Bach.

Presiding Judge Heather Perkins-McVey said it did seem "unusual" that two officers who had direct communication with Freedom Convoy organizers had their phones wiped.

She said they "knew they had to have their phones upgraded and yet did not take the responsible steps to ensure that all the evidence and disclosure was preserved."

Lich and Barber are accused of mischief and counselling others to commit mischief, among other charges, for their role in organizing and prolonging the demonstrations that gridlocked downtown Ottawa for three weeks early last year.

A third officer who played a similar role during the protest and who is on the witness list did not lose access to his messages, the Crown told the court.

The police legal team says the defence should have to file a formal application for the information.

The defence lawyers argue that since the Crown has seen the document, they should have a right to view it as well.

Until the judge rules on the disclosure of the emails, Lich's lawyer Lawrence Greenspon said he's not prepared to cross-examine any more of the police officers who worked on the ground during the protest.

The arguments are expected to continue on Friday.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 26, 2023.

Laura Osman, The Canadian Press