Canada tries leaders of anti-vaccine protest that jammed Ottawa

OTTAWA, Ontario — A criminal trial opened Tuesday for two Canadians who were key organizers of the trucker convoy that paralyzed the country’s capital, Ottawa, for nearly a month in early 2022, upturning the lives of many residents and creating economic hardship for local businesses and workers.

The 22-day protest, which began in response to mandatory vaccinations for cross-border truck drivers, blocked major roads around the Canadian Parliament and was among the longest and most costly anti-vaccine protests in the world.


It prompted copycat demonstrations along Canada’s border with the United States, including a blockade that disrupted billions of dollars in trade, and inspired similar protests in France and around the world. The Canadian protests expanded to include a wide range of grievances, sharply dividing the country over whether it was permissible speech or unlawful assembly.

In order to clear the streets, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau invoked federal emergency laws for the first time in more than 50 years, a step his critics charged was excessive and unjustified.

The defendants are Tamara Lich, a political activist from Medicine Hat, Alberta, who started an online funding campaign for the protest, and Chris Barber, a trucking company owner from Swift Current, Saskatchewan. The pair are the first members of a loosely connected and not always aligned group of organizers to be tried for their roles in a protest that had no clear central leadership.

Both Lich and Barber were among those who spoke for the convoy protesters and face charges under Canadian law of mischief, obstructing police, counseling others to commit mischief and intimidation. Barber has also been charged with defying a court order banning the incessant honking of truck air horns and revving of truck engines, often in residential areas, during the first days of the blockade.

The prosecution asserted Tuesday that their actions went well beyond freedom of expression and showed “flagrant” disregard for the law, contrary to what the defendants have alleged.

“This case is not about their political views,” Tim Radcliffe, a prosecutor, told the court in brief opening remarks Tuesday. “Freedom of expression, like all other charter rights, is not an absolute right.”

But Diane Magas, a lawyer representing Barber, said that she will show that he was engaged in a “lawful, peaceful protest” and that he complied with police requests for assistance before his arrest.

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