After a small nucleus of truck drivers organized the Freedom Convoy to protest Canada’s border vaccine mandate, their defiance sparked dissent worldwide. Now, the Trudeau Administration is prosecuting two of the initial leaders in a trial that tests the boundaries of free speech and free expression.
As the Freedom Convoy blocked bridges, slowed travel, and bogged down the streets of Ottawa, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau invoked Canada’s federal emergency laws. This power had not been used in more than a half-century and drew criticism from free speech proponents.
“In a contest between constitutionally protected freedom of assembly and freedom of expression and property rights that are not constitutionally protected — there is no contest,” defense attorney Lawrence Greenspon reportedly said.
Political activist Tamara Lich launched the initial online funding campaign to support truckers engaged in the 22-day pushback that closed border crossings and slow-rolled traffic before descending on Ottawa. Chris Barber, the other defendant in the recent trial, owns and operates a trucking company based in Swift Current, Saskatchewan. Lich and Barber are the first Canadians to go to trial for the loosely knit Freedom Convoy that drew praise and criticism during the late days of the pandemic.
“This case is not about their political views. Freedom of expression, like all other charter rights, is not an absolute right,” Canadian prosecutor Tim Radcliffe reportedly said.
Lich reportedly raised millions of dollars to support truckers who pushed back on the anti-vax border policy. Approximately 230 others were arrested and quickly released for the most part. She spent 49 days in jail while bail was withheld.
For his part, Barber is charged with defying a court order that banned blaring truck horns and revving engines in residential areas, namely downtown Ottawa. He was reportedly charged and released without incident.
Others arrested during the Ottawa protest have largely pleaded guilty, receiving fines, probation, or time served for the few days they spent awaiting release. Lich and Barber are the first to press the issue and defend their actions as constitutionally protected rights. Canadian legal scholars have gone on the record stating that argument would likely fall on deaf ears.
Neither defendant will make their case to a jury of their peers. A judge will make the final decision of whether the pair’s protests are protected expressions of free speech and assembly. The trial kicked off on Sept. 5 and is expected to last about 16 days, with more time set aside in October