As Tamara Lich was distanced from her handcuffed supporters on the snowy streets of Ottawa in 2022, she threw a single sentence over her shoulder.
“Hold the line,” said the small figurehead of the Freedom Convoy movement as officers at each of her elbows led her to the waiting patrol vehicle.
She echoed remarks shouted by one of her supporters in a scene filmed and broadcast online the day before hundreds of police arrived.
Officers spent the next two days clearing protesters from the streets around Parliament Hill.
But that parting phrase, which will become the title of Lich’s recently published book, will likely be at the heart of his criminal trial.
Lich and convoy organizer Chris Barber are set to stand trial in Ottawa starting Tuesday for their role in the three-week protest that took to downtown streets and triggered a national emergency declaration.
In the final days of the protest, as police began ordering people to leave, organizers and their supporters used “holding the line” as a rallying cry, words of encouragement and greeting.
Lich and Barber are co-charged with mischief, obstructing police, counseling others to commit mischief, and intimidation.
Several of the charges hinge on whether Lich and Barber encouraged protesters to defy police orders by staying in Ottawa after authorities ordered everyone to clear the streets and, if they did done, if it was a criminal act.
“We do not expect this to be the ‘Freedom Convoy’ trial,” lawyers for Lich and Barber said in a joint statement on Friday.
“The central question will be whether the actions of two of the organizers of a peaceful protest warrant criminal sanctions. »
Lich told a federal inquiry last year that when she told her supporters to “hold on,” she was not encouraging them to stay in the capital, but rather to “stay true to their values in the face of adversity”.
The trial is expected to last at least 16 days and will likely include hundreds of social media posts from Lich, Barber and others, including videos streamed live throughout the protest. The organizers used the live videos to document their experience and share their thoughts and updates with their supporters.
The court will also likely look at Barber’s private text messages with Lich, which were obtained by Ottawa police and entered into evidence by the Crown during one of Lich’s bail hearings last year. There is a publication ban on any post about anyone other than Lich and Barber.
The ‘Freedom Convoy’ was born out of a conversation between Saskatchewan trucking company owner Barber and fellow trucker Bridgette Belton on social media platform TikTok, both of whom had spoken online about public health measures related to COVID-19 in early 2022.
They specifically wanted to find a way to protest vaccination requirements that were coming into effect for truckers who crossed the US border and would be forced to self-quarantine for 14 days if not vaccinated.
The idea quickly gained traction and drew support from Lich, who lives in Alberta and was a founding board member of the fledgling Maverick Party. She was also a former supporter of the “Yellow Vests” movement which protested federal oil and gas policy, but which the Canadian Anti-Hate Network says had been co-opted by far-right and anti-Muslim groups. .
As the number of organizers and supporters grew, so did the goals of the protest. Upon arriving in Ottawa, their stated goals included opposing all pandemic-related public health orders and, for some, overthrowing the elected government.
Lich and Baber rode in the same truck to drive to Ottawa.
Since their arrest, they have not been allowed to speak to each other without the presence of a lawyer. Their communications were facilitated by Keith Wilson, who served as legal counsel to the organizers during the protest.
“Chris and I kind of started together as a team and we feel like we have to finish it as a team,” Lich told a crowd earlier this month at an event in Vernon, B.C., for promote his book.
The Crown hopes to establish that Barber and Lich worked together, so the evidence against one will apply to both.
The protest in Ottawa drew international attention when thousands of demonstrators arrived and refused to leave. The spin-off protests have also blocked several international border crossings between Canada and the United States.
Large trucks parked downtown and on residential roads, blocking traffic and blaring horns at all hours in what has become a week-long winter block party, complete with fireworks, a stage , bouncy castles and, most famously, an outdoor hot tub.
Some local residents and politicians meanwhile described the protest as an “occupation” that left their community in a state of anarchy. They lived with a constant chorus of car horns and some said they were afraid or unable to leave their homes.
Several businesses, including the nearby CF Rideau Center mall, have also closed as a precaution.
© 2023 The Canadian Press