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Defence begins its case in criminal trial of high-profile 'Freedom Convoy' organizers

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OTTAWA -

Defence lawyers for “Freedom Convoy” organizers Chris Barber and Tamara Lich started laying out their case in an Ottawa courtroom on Monday.

Eric Granger, a lawyer for Lich, argued there is no direct evidence linking her to any unlawful activities that took place in downtown Ottawa during the protest.

And the defence team continues to argue that evidence in the case that applies only to Lich shouldn't be used against Barber, and vice versa.

The two are co-accused of mischief and intimidation, among other charges, connected to the massive demonstration against COVID-19 restrictions that gridlocked the area near Parliament Hill for weeks in early 2022.

The Crown argues that the two exerted influence over protesters' behaviour, and they worked closely enough that evidence pertaining to one of them should also be considered evidence against the other.

Prosecutors wrapped up their case a week ago after weeks of testimony about the disruptive nature of the demonstrations.

But Granger told the court on Monday that none of the witnesses the Crown brought forward testified that they communicated with Lich.

He said that peacefully protesting pandemic mandates, or inviting others to do so, is not a crime and does not incite others to commit criminal offences.

Granger also said Lich could not aid or abet a crime without the knowledge of a crime being committed.

The Crown alleges the protesters criminally obstructed traffic and the highway that runs near Ottawa's downtown, along with public property and peace officers.

On Monday, Granger presented a chronological summary of evidence of Lich's dealings from Jan. 20 to Feb. 17, 2022, the day Lich was arrested.

It included previously sealed text message exchanges between Lich and Barber, as well as remarks made by Lich on social media or in press conferences during and just before the demonstrations.

Granger said a theme of Lich being in charge of the protests' finances emerged throughout the demonstrations.

On Jan. 21, Lich started a GoFundMe page and an official “Freedom Convoy 2022” Facebook page.

On Jan. 22, Lich tweeted a list of demands from the Canadian government including an end to all pandemic-related mandates and a “cease” in rhetoric relating to unvaccinated Canadians.

Later, on Jan. 23, Lich said on a Facebook live video that the GoFundMe page had raised more than $1 million and that “Ottawa hears you loud and clear.”

In early February, Lich and Barber texted with each other about meeting former Conservative MP Candice Bergen, but it is unclear whether the meeting actually took place.

Barber and Lich also continually communicated about concerns they could be associated with Pat King, another vocal convoy organizer. They shared with each other that he should be “less visible” and calm his rhetoric.

Granger's evidence list shows that Barber and Lich communicated nearly every day to co-ordinate logistics.

He noted that Lich and Barber urged their followers to be peaceful and report anyone who was disruptive to police several times throughout the demonstrations.

During the Crown's case, prosecutors had played hours of social-media videos posted by Lich and Barber that covered the lead-up to the demonstrations up to their arrests as police forcibly removed protesters from Ottawa's downtown.

In those videos, the two organizers were identified as leaders of the “Freedom Convoy” movement and relayed messages to protesters.

Barber's lawyer also showed the court videos of him calling for protesters to remain peaceful and to respect Ottawa police and residents.

The defence filed a motion last Tuesday arguing that Lich and Barber shouldn't be viewed as co-conspirators because their actions weren't criminal.

Justice Heather Perkins-McVey said she doesn't expect to make a ruling on the motion this week.

The trial is expected to resume on Tuesday.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 27, 2023.

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