OTTAWA — Tyson "Freedom George" Billingscharged out of theOttawa courthouse on Wednesday, brandishing a Canada flag to a cacophony of cheers and air horns after pleading guilty to a charge related to the convoy protest that seized the city earlier this year.
Billings spent 116 days in jail before pleading guilty to counselling to commit mischief. The Crown withdrew other charges, including intimidation, obstructing police, mischief and disobeying a court order.
"I don't regret it. I'm a freedom fighter," Billings said outside the courthouse, minutes after his release, to the jubilation of about 50 supporters, including some who took part in the February protests.
Nicknamed "Freedom George" by his fellow protesters, Billings was a key figure in the three-week demonstration against COVID-19 restrictions and the Liberal government, though Crown counsel Moiz Karimjee was careful to point out that he was not one of the leaders.
Protesters in big-rigs and other trucks blocked downtown streets for weeks and formed encampments, which forced businesses to close and sparked a sense of what police and politicians described as "lawlessness" in downtown Ottawa.
According to the agreed statement of facts read aloud in court, Billings was captured in social media videos disobeying police checkpoints designed to keep people out of downtown Ottawa during the protest and encouraging others to thwart the checkpoints too.
Billings also recorded himself being belligerent toward police and encouraging other protesters to "hold the line."
"I got caught up in the moment, sure, who wouldn't," Billings said after leaving court. "I don't regret anything."
Billings said he "went to jail for the kids," to have mask mandates repealed in schools.
Karimjee said in court he could have sought to prove the other allegations made against Billings and seek a lengthier jail sentence but opted not to in light of the fact that Billings is the first figure in the convoy to accept responsibility for his actions.
Billings was sentenced to time served and a six-month probation under the condition that he keeps the peace.
"You must not make the law, regardless of what your views are on various issues," Karimjee said.
Before his release, Billings listened to the court proceedings from the prisoner's box with his arms folded over his black T-shirt that read "Fear God, not COVID."
Jake Chadi, the defence lawyer for Billings, told the court that his client believed he was "morally justified" to do what he did during the Ottawa protest.
"He has every opportunity, every right to do what he did. But he can’t break the law" and Billings understands that, Chadi said.
Superior Court Justice Robert Maranger said he agreed to release Billings at the joint request of the Crown and defence because Billings accepted responsibility.
He said sentencing is not about retribution. He also said that it was OK to believe in a cause but that it can "get out of hand."
Billings was originally co-accused with prominent protest organizer Pat King and was described in the agreed statement of facts as have a "close association" with King.
Now that the balance of Billings’ charges have been withdrawn, King will face those charges alone and his trial is expected to go ahead as planned.
Billings said he would return to Alberta to "heal up." His lawyer said in court that Billings plans to work on his family's farm in High Prairie, Alta. and take up a job in logging.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 15, 2022.
Laura Osman, The Canadian Press