“Freedom Convoy” organizer Chris Barber called for people to “flood the city” in a social media video that was shown Thursday in court as part of his criminal trial in Ottawa.
The Crown hopes his rallying call for people to come to Ottawa last year as police ordered protesters to leave may prove just as damaging to his fellow organizer, Tamara Lich as they could potentially be to Barber.
Barber, who operated a trucking business in Swift Current, Sask., and Lich, from Medicine Hat, Alta., are co-accused in the trial. They face charges of mischief, counselling others to commit mischief, intimidation, and obstructing police, all in relation to their role organizing the protest against COVID-19 health restrictions last year that blockaded Ottawa city streets for weeks.
Barber faces an additional charge of counselling others to disobey a court order that banned the big rigs and other vehicles parked in the streets in protest, from honking their horns in the downtown core.
The city initially estimated the convoy cost about $62 million, with the vast majority dedicated to policing the protest, including the major operation involving officers from multiple forces, to bring it to an end.
As testimony continued for a third day in Ottawa, the Crown called Ottawa police Sgt. Joanne Pilotte, who compiled five hours of TikTok and YouTube videos posted by Barber, Lich and others participating in the protest.
Pilotte typically serves in the homicide unit.
Over the course of the three-week demonstration that blocked streets around Parliament Hill in January and February 2022, thousands of protesters recorded and streamed videos, capturing the overwhelming sounds of honking horns and large crowds of protesters.
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The Crown dedicated most of the third day of testimony to showing a series of videos from Barber’s TikTok account, BigRed19755.
In one of those videos, Barber told supporters on Feb. 7, 2022 he believed riot police were on their way to Ottawa. He said that if protest organizers’ “phones go dark,” people should use whatever means possible to come to the city and protest peacefully.
“You come here and you flood this city,” Barber said in the video, posted to his TikTok account during the second week of the protest.
In the expletive-laden message, he said he didn’t care if everyone in Canada came to Ottawa.
The Crown alleges that Lich and Barber orchestrated the protest, directed the movement of trucks and protesters, and counselled them to remain in Ottawa even has police ordered them to leave.
The Crown also hopes to prove that Lich and Barber conspired together during the protest, and that evidence against one of them would apply to both.
Barber’s lawyer, Diane Magas, asked the Crown Thursday to better define the parameters of the alleged conspiracy between Lich, Barber and others.
“How big or small is that conspiracy, I’m entitled to know that,” Barber’s lawyer, Diane Magas told the court.
Lich was mentioned only twice in the social media videos shown to the court so far, standing in the background of one of Barber’s videos and holding the phone and recording Chris in another.
None of the livestreams or videos that she posted have been shown in court so far.
Eric Granger, one of Lich’s lawyers, said they opposed the Crown’s conspiracy allegations and will argue against it.
When asked outside the courthouse how crucial the conspiracy application is to the case against Lich, Granger would only say that people should draw their own conclusions, “in terms of how much of certain names have been mentioned and how little certain other names have been mentioned.”
The trial is expected to run at least another 13 days.
An Ontario Superior Court judge granted an injunction on Feb. 7, 2022 to ban the incessant honking at all hours of the day and night from the big rig tricks stationed all over the downtown core after an Ottawa resident brought a class-action lawsuit against the protesters.
Violators of the injunction could have been found in contempt, which carries stiffer penalties than regular bylaw offences.
In a video posted two days later, Barber acknowledged the court-ordered ban on honking but told truckers to “grab that horn switch and don’t let go,” if they saw a large number of police come toward them.
His message — which contained several profanities — told truck drivers it didn’t matter what time of day or night it was, they should let their horns honk for as long as possible “when that time comes.”
Barber sat in the first row of the courtroom Thursday, a notebook in hand, as video after video from his TikTok account were played for the court.
At times, he took notes as his videos played on a large screen at the front of the courtroom.
His face remained impassive as the Crown showed another video from Feb. 7 where Barber suggested an empty intersection near the National Art Gallery in downtown Ottawa looked “lonely.”
“It doesn’t look like there’s anybody here,” he said, and asked whether there was anything they could do about that before letting out a long laugh.
In another video, posted Feb. 9, Barber said that every trucker arrested by police during the protest would be replaced by three more.
There were far fewer supporters in court Thursday for the third day of the criminal trial. Lich and Barber sat in the front rows with their spouses and a private security guard, as about 10 members of the public filed quietly into the benches behind them.
Outside the courthouse half a dozen supporters sat on a patch of grass with sandwich board signs that read “Free Chris” and “Free Tamara.”
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 7, 2023.