Freedom convoy takes the stand in Ottawa

Many eyes will be on Ottawa over the next few days as the infamous ‘freedom convoy’ criminal trial unfolds.

On the stand are Tamara Lich and Chris Barber, the two figureheads credited with organizing the convoy of big rigs that parked in Canada’s capital in early 2022. They’re now on trial to answer to charges of mischief, councilling to commit mischief, intimidation and obstructing police.

The trial will give Canadians an inside look at just what went on during those three chilly weeks in Ottawa. Testimony given under oath will fill in some of the gaps and hopefully separate fact from rumour.

Even when the protest was taking place in real time there were plenty of disagreements as to what exactly was taking place. Those in favour of the truckers claimed it was a peaceful protest with no disruption to the downtown core. People who lived in the area complained of constant truck horns blaring, fireworks being lit and fears for their safety. Also up for debate is what exactly the protestors were aiming to achieve. Some say it was a rally against COVID-19 vaccine rules for international truck drivers. Others made it clear their intent was to overthrow the elected government. Whether or not the original organizers supported the latter movement will almost certainly get discussed during a cross-examination. One of the major storylines will be trying to decode Lich’s famous quote of ‘hold the line’, which she repeated as she was being led away in handcuffs in February 2022. She’s used that catchphrase to launch a book detailing her side of the story. Now a court will decide what exactly ‘holding the line’ meant-was it a call to defy a police order, or was she merely telling her followers to stick to their values, as she claims.

Court proceedings may also give some insight into how police responded and perhaps ultimately provide lessons learned on what to do should a similar situation arise in the future. The outcome of this trial may also influence whether or not something like this is attempted again.

Also likely keeping a close eye on the trial, and more specifically public reaction to the trial, will be policy makers for Canada’s major political parties. The issue has always been a political football, one to be handled with care. Erin O’Toole’s decision to support the convoy in its very early stages was one of the last things he did as leader of the Conservatives. There’s votes to be had if played correctly, but the risk of alienating another section of the base is very real as well. There’s also the matter of trying to calculate just how much Canadians still care about the issue, as just about every mandate surrounding the pandemic has long since been dropped.

For those reasons, as well as a handful of others, its safe to say there’s a lot more than the fate of the two convoy organizers at stake. The fallout will be far more reaching.

-Adam Prudhomme

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