The trial for Tamara Lich and Chris Barber, the main organizers of the “Freedom Convoy” demonstrations in Canada, is set to open on Tuesday. The protests, which lasted for weeks and paralyzed Canada’s capital, Ottawa, were held in opposition to pandemic health measures and the government of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.
Lich and Barber face charges including mischief, obstructing police, and counseling others to commit mischief. The protests drew international attention and support from some in the United States. They also sparked copycat protests in other countries, including New Zealand and the Washington Beltway.
In the aftermath of the protests, there has been scrutiny of the authorities’ response. The city’s police chief resigned, and a public inquiry found failures in policing and jurisdiction among officials at different levels of government.
Lich and Barber are among the prominent individuals charged in Ottawa, and their trial is expected to draw national attention. The charges of mischief can range from relatively minor offenses to more serious crimes, depending on the level of endangerment caused. While offenders can face life sentences in severe cases, most convicted individuals do not serve time or receive time-served sentences.
The trial is significant not only from a legal standpoint but also because it provides a platform for the defendants to present their narrative. The protests began in late January 2022 in response to rules barring unvaccinated truck drivers from crossing the U.S.-Canada border. The protests attracted a diverse range of anti-government activists, far-right figures, and opponents of pandemic measures.
The trial’s central issue will be whether the actions of the organizers of a peaceful protest warrant criminal sanction. The trial is expected to last 19 days, which is relatively long for a mischief trial. Lich and Barber testified before a public inquiry earlier, and it remains to be seen if they will take the stand in their own trial.
Both defendants have sought to distance themselves from the more controversial figures associated with the convoy, but the inquiry’s commissioner found that they were aware of potential harassment or violence and maintained ties with those advocating violence or the removal of Trudeau from office.
Several other defendants charged in the protests have already had their days in court, including Tyson Billings, who pleaded guilty.