Thu. Feb 29th, 2024

Lich-Barber trial: the defense ;cortique the Emergency Measures Act

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Tamara Lich and Chris Barber at the Commission on the State of emergency in November 2022. (Archive photo)

The Canadian Press

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Defense lawyers for two organizers of the truckers' convoy continued to strengthen their position Wednesday on the central question of their criminal trial: whether or not the 2022 protest that paralyzed the federal capital for weeks was a legal expression of rights guaranteed by the Charter.

Chris Barber and Tamara Lich, two of the most prominent leaders of the protest, have maintained that their sole objective throughout the convoy was to organize and supervise a peaceful and legal demonstration, and that they encouraged people to respect the law.

Their lawyers repeatedly told the court this week that the right to peaceful assembly and freedom of expression are protected by the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. The Crown maintains, however, that rights have limits and that a demonstration is not legal simply because it is peaceful.

Mr. Barber and Ms. Lich are both charged with mischief and intimidation for their roles in the protests and they also face multiple charges involving advising others to break the law.

They helped bring thousands of large trucks and other vehicles to Ottawa, accompanied by massive crowds, as part of last year's disruptive protest against COVID-related public health restrictions -19, vowing not to withdraw until the federal government complies with their demands.

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Trucks block downtown Ottawa. (File photo)

On February 14, after weeks of protests in the shadow of Parliament Hill, as well as several similar, but unaffiliated, demonstrations at the Canada-U.S. border and in provincial legislatures, the federal government proclaimed x27;state of emergency in matters of public order. This was the first use of the Emergency Measures Act since it replaced the War Measures Act in 1988.

Mr. Barber's lawyer, Diane Magas, read the emergency proclamation aloud in court on Wednesday.

We further clarify that temporary special measures which may be necessary to deal with the emergency, as provided by the Governor in Council, are measures to regulate or prohibit any public assembly — other than defense, protest or dissidence, recited Me Magas.

This is a very key factor, in my opinion, she declared to the judge.

Mr. Magas made this argument in response to the Crown's allegation that Mr. Barber and Ms. Lich worked so closely that they should be considered co-conspirators, which would mean that the evidence against one of them would apply to both.

The defense says the Crown would have to prove that she conspired to break the law, rather than organize a peaceful and legal protest.

There is not a shred of evidence, direct or indirect, to suggest an illegal common purpose involving Mr. Barber, Mr. Magas told the court on Wednesday.

In the Crown's view, neither the protest nor the actions of Ms. Lich and Mr. Barber were lawful, said Crown prosecutor Siobhain Wetscher, an observation that amused Ontario Court Justice Heather Perkins-McVey.

I know, Ms. Perkins-McVey laughed. That's why we're here.

Ms. Wetscher's co-counsel, Tim Radcliffe, highlighted the dozens of appeals made by Ms. Lich and Mr. Barber to keep the protesters peaceful, united and loving. These statements amounted to asking people to remain nonviolent, but not to remain legal, he said.

That was the plea to those who jumped on the bandwagon, Radcliffe said.

The defense did not raise no constitutional challenge, making irrelevant whether the protest was a constitutionally protected form of expression or assembly, Wetscher added.

We are facing criminal offenses, she said.

Mr. Radcliffe said all Judge Perkins-McVey had to consider was whether the streets had been blocked and whether the property had been tampered with, and whether Ms. Lich and Mr. Barber were complicit in those crimes.

< p class="StyledBodyHtmlParagraph-sc-48221190-4 hnvfyV">The Crown has not yet said when it alleges the plot began or who was involved other than Mr Barber and Ms Lich. The Crown must present its arguments later on Wednesday.

Mr. Magas presented to the court a chronology of the events that occurred during the truckers' convoy demonstration, including examples of times when Mr. Barber encouraged protesters to follow police advice and leave downtown Ottawa in order to set up camp outside the city .

During an exchange of private text messages, a protester told Mr. Barber that he had arrived in an area rally on Coventry Street outside the city center during the second week of the protest.

Okay, stay there or go to Exit 88, Mr. Barber replied, referring to a rural staging area about 45 kilometers from Ottawa. The two assembly areas had been recommended by the police.

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