The first three weeks of a criminal trial for two leaders of what became the "Freedom Convoy" ended Friday with defence lawyers requesting a "check in" as soon as possible with the judge to ensure the trial runs more smoothly when it returns in October.
Tamara Lich and Chris Barber are charged with mischief, counselling others to commit mischief, intimidation and obstructing police for their role in the weeks-long protest in February 2022.
The trial continues to crawl along, with the Crown originally scheduled to take 10 days to make its case.
Now 13 days in, only four of the more-than-20 witnesses the Crown intends on calling have testified.
The trial was originally scheduled to sit just 16 days but additional time is now being added.
This case is not about their political beliefs. - Tim Radcliffe, Crown prosecutor
There were issues with police disclosing a text message conversation they used during the protests that caused delay and a morning of court was essentially lost when a city official showed up without his notes.
Technical delays and lengthy videos submitted as evidence have also eaten up significant court time.
Lawrence Greenspon, Lich's lawyer, said he wants to ensure the Crown discloses what witnesses are being called, the purpose of the evidence and the documents supporting it.
"My request to her honour was to have a check-in date so that the kinds of things that have been happening don't reoccur and in order to ensure that the trial does eventually get to an end," he said outside of court Friday.
Justice Heather Perkins-McVey will meet Sept. 29 with lawyers to discuss those matters.
Tamara Lich arrives for her trial at the Ottawa Courthouse on Sept. 11, 2023. (Justin Tang/The Canadian Press)
The case so far
During opening statements, Crown lawyer Tim Radcliffe said the case is not about Lich and Barber's political views, but instead how they "crossed the line" in committing the crimes they're accused of.
"This case is not about their political beliefs," Radcliffe said. "What is at issue here is the means they employed — not the end — the means to achieve their political purpose, and whether it was lawful or not."
Crown lawyers are arguing the protest was anything but peaceful and introduced evidence showing as much: videos and posts from the convoy with police witnesses guiding the court through that material.
The videos are being used as examples of instances where the two leaders appear to be encouraging supporters to stay in Ottawa despite being told by police to leave.
That includes when Lich, 51 and from Alberta, again told protesters to "hold the line" as she was being led away in police handcuffs on Feb. 17, three days after the Emergencies Act had been invoked.
A major police operation to clear the streets of protesters entirely began the following morning.
In a video filmed on the eve of her being taken into custody, she tells her supporters to "keep fighting the good fight" and encourages them to come to Ottawa and "stand with us."
Diane Magas, left, lawyer for Chris Barber, centre, walks with Tamara Lich's lawyer Lawrence Greenspon to the Ottawa Courthouse on Sept. 19, 2023. (Justin Tang/The Canadian Press)
Barber, a 48-year-old trucker from Saskatchewan, is facing an additional charge of counselling others to disobey a Feb. 7, 2022 court order that banned loud honking in Ottawa's downtown core.
Two days after the Ontario Superior Court granted the injunction against honking, Barber posted a video to TikTok warning supporters there were rumours police action could be coming within days.
In the video, introduced as evidence by the Crown, Barber said the "horns have to be quiet" — but if a trucker sees police enforcement starting, they should "grab that horn switch and don't let go of that."
"F--king go, no matter what time it is, and let it roll as long as possible until they're busting your f--king windows down."
Crown trying to show leaders had influence
Crown prosecutors are also trying to demonstrate Lich and Barber had control and influence over the protest in their capacity as leaders.
Serge Arpin, chief of staff to former mayor Jim Watson, testified the city reached a deal with Lich and Barber to move trucks out of residential areas and onto Wellington Street in front of Parliament because they were understood to represent the "broad, moderate leadership" of the protesters.
The agreement was co-ordinated between Watson's office and convoy leaders. Watson announced the agreement Feb. 13 in a letter to Lich.
Given the fact there were roughly 400 trucks in the downtown core, Watson agreed to allow up to 72 hours to move them. He also asked organizers to stop requesting more people join the protest in order to ensure the trucks were relocated.
More than 100 vehicles were moved on Feb. 14, including about 40 trucks, with Barber on the ground helping make that happen.
Police stopped allowing more trucks to be moved that same day as the Emergencies Act was invoked by the federal government.
The next day, news broke that Ottawa police chief Peter Sloly would resign.
Convoy protesters in Ottawa before police moved in. (CBC/Radio-Canada)
Defence says leaders promoted peace, worked with police
The defence is arguing Lich and Barber consistently promoted peace and tried working with the city and police while they were in Ottawa.
"[Protesters] were directed how to get off the highway, what roads to take, where to park in the downtown core of Ottawa and on Wellington Street," Greenspon said outside of court earlier this week. "They didn't just end up there. They were directed there."
Diane Magas, Barber's lawyer, showed video of police and a former premier using the phrase "hold the line" to demonstrate it can mean different things to different people, and isn't necessarily a direction to continue protesting.
Defence lawyers also showed video evidence of Lich and Barber encouraging supporters to work with police and remain peaceful.
On Friday, they introduced evidence the city changed its bylaws on Feb. 9 to help enforcement against the protesters, including changing the threshold temperature that vehicles can legally idle at in cold weather.
Greenspon said it was entered as an "indication of how the city was treating protesters" ahead of meeting with them to negotiate the deal to move trucks onto Wellington a few days later.
Supporters of Lich and Barber are in and outside the Ottawa courthouse each day, cheering them on as they leave.
Barber is driving back to his home in Saskatchewan with his wife. Lich is expected to stick around Ottawa a little longer.
Both are expected to return when the trial starts again on Oct. 11.