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'Hold the line,' means different things to different people: 'Freedom Convoy' defence

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OTTAWA -

The lawyer for one of the most prominent organizers of the "Freedom Convoy" disputed the meaning of a key phrase used by demonstrators in the final days of the protest.

The words "Hold the line" were frequently heard on the streets in Ottawa in February 2022, and were played in court over and over as the Crown took showed social media videos from the protest this week.

Many of those videos featured Chris Barber and his co-accused, Tamara Lich, who are both facing criminal charges for their role in the protest.

In the Crown's opening statement, prosecutor Tim Radcliffe said the two organizers didn't just "hold the line," they "crossed the line" into criminal activity by encouraging people to stay in Ottawa as police ordered protesters to leave.

"There's different interpretations for the words 'Hold the line,"' Barber's defence lawyer, Diane Magas, said outside the courthouse Thursday.

She has not yet made that argument formally before the court, and isn't expected to until the end of the trial.

To set the stage for that argument, Barber's defence team showed a TikTok video in court Thursday of former Newfoundland premier Brian Peckford, who also used the phrase during the protest.

Peckford is the only living first minister who was involved in the agreement to patriate and update the Canadian Constitution in the early 1980s.

"We're going to determine the future course of our country so that every single person who lives in this country has the individual rights and freedoms that they not only deserve, but have under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms," Peckford said in the video, which was posted on Feb. 14.

"Hold the line."

The video was posted the same day Prime Minister Justin Trudeau declared a public order emergency that granted extraordinary powers to police, banks and governments.

The defence will argue Peckford was not suggesting anything illegal with his words, Magas said.

"We're going to be arguing that there's inferences of lawful protesting behind those words for the former premier."

The defence also showed the court a video of a speech Peckford gave during the protest about preserving Canadian rights and freedoms. He spoke on a stage erected by protesters on Wellington Street in front of Parliament Hill in a move that Magas said lends legitimacy to the demonstration.

Peckford was not the only person lending advice and support to the protest in the videos watched in court Thursday.

Lawyer Keith Wilson, who represented Lich, Barber and other core organizers during the protest, was seen encouraging more protesters to come to Ottawa in response to the federal invocation of the Emergencies Act.

In a video posted on Feb. 15, Wilson said it appeared the police would use violence against the protesters, and said one way to stop that from happening was to have concerned Canadians "come to Ottawa as soon as you can get here."

In another post from Feb. 10, Conservative MPs Cheryl Gallant and Arnold Viersen encouraged people to come to Ottawa to join the protest and experience what they described as a festival-like atmosphere.

In its cross-examination of the officer tasked with compiling social media videos of the protest, the defence showcased a more peaceful side of the demonstration.

Many of them show Barber calling for peaceful behaviour, talking about the loving nature of the crowd, and thanking police for ensuring public safety.

They were initially posted to Barber's TikTok account and the "Freedom Convoy 2022" Facebook page.

The snippets on display Thursday were a contrast to the ones shown this week by the Crown, which is trying to make the case that Lich and Barber exerted influence and control over a protest that was not peaceful.

Lich's defence team showed a video of her discouraging violence during the protest.

"We will be peaceful and we will not instigate anything," she said in a tearful video posted on Jan. 29.

Lich's lawyer, Eric Granger, confirmed that the phrase "hold the line" was also used in social media posts by other people and groups the police were keeping an eye on during the convoy.

Some of the videos shown Thursday were part of the package compiled by Pilotte, but several of the videos shown by the defence were not downloaded by police as part of their investigation.

Pilotte told the court she was directed to download certain videos by an Ottawa police detective as part of the investigation, and did not choose them herself.

None of the Facebook videos are considered evidence in the case yet. The defence plans to argue those videos should not be admitted as evidence, and has told Justice Heather Perkins-McVey that the case is not a trial for the entire "Freedom Convoy," but rather the specific actions of the two accused.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 14, 2023.

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