Tamara Lich won’t return to jail after accepting award for role as trucker convoy protest leader, judge says

OTTAWA—Tamara Lich did not breach her bail conditions by accepting an award for her role as a key leader of the so-called “Freedom Convoy” protests this winter, a Superior Court judge ruled Wednesday.

The decision means Lich will stay out of jail as she awaits trial on a slew of criminal charges linked to her role in the demonstrations that prompted the government to invoke the never-before-used Emergencies Act to deal with a situation it argued was dangerous and causing economic damage.

Crown lawyer Moiz Karimjee had argued during court hearings last week that Lich violated her bail terms by accepting the “George Jonas Freedom Award” from the Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms, which endorsed the convoy’s stand against COVID-19 health measures.

But Superior Court Justice Kevin Phillips disagreed, stating in his ruling Wednesday that the bail condition in question — which barred Lich from supporting anything related to the “Freedom Convoy” — was intended to prevent a repeat demonstration that paralyzed Ottawa’s downtown core for three weeks this winter.

“No court would ever seek to control the possession or manifestation of political views. The courts are not a thought police,” Phillips said.

“Here, the objective was to keep a highly problematic street protest from reviving or reoccurring.”

The judge added that the connection between accepting the award and arguing this shows “support” for the convoy demonstration that ended in February “is so indirect as to be barely perceptible.”

Karimjee did not say Wednesday whether the Crown would appeal the decision.

Lich was arrested, denied bail and jailed for 18 days before she successfully appealed and was released from custody on March 7. The 49-year-old Alberta woman is accused of mischief, obstructing police, intimidation, and counselling others to cause mischief, intimidation and obstructing police.

Lich served as a spokesperson for the protesters during the three-week occupation around Parliament Hill, urging hundreds of truckers who camped out in parked vehicles on downtown streets to “hold the line” despite calls from police and government officials to end the demonstration.

In his decision Wednesday, Phillips also rejected Lich’s attempt to strike down an earlier bail condition that barred her from using social media while she awaits trial. Her lawyer, Lawrence Greenspon, had argued the condition goes too far and violates Lich’s right to freedom of expression.

Phillips ruled, however, that the ban is “warranted and appropriate,” describing social media as a “problematic feedback loop” that fuelled the convoy protests. Lich should stay away from it to lower the risk of allegedly breaking the law again, he concluded.

But Phillips did modify one earlier bail condition that barred Lich — who was released on an order to remain in Medicine Hat, Alta. — from entering Ontario except to attend court or meet with her lawyer.

She will now be barred from downtown Ottawa so that she is not allowed to “walk around the very neighbourhoods she is alleged to have traumatized,” Phillips said.

“I do not want for Ms. Lich to be seen by the members of the public who report being greatly affected by the events of this past winter.”

Phillips also imposed a series of bail conditions on Lich, including for her to “keep the peace,” reside with her surety — the person who agreed to monitor her while she awaits trial — in Medicine Hat, and not to communicate with other alleged organizers of the convoy protests.

That includes others facing criminal charges, such as Saskatchewan trucker Chris Barber and Pat King, a far-right online figure who has espoused racist conspiracy theories.

Phillips concluded that Lich is presumed innocent, and argued there is “significant uncertainty about the degree to which she will be held culpable for the assortment of alleged bad acts” committed during the protests.

For this reason, he disagreed with a previous bail decision that concluded she would likely face a “lengthy” prison sentence, stating that this is currently “impossible to say” with certainty.

Yet he also warned Lich that “one of the possible outcomes” is conviction.

“Ms. Lich might learn the hard way from Her Majesty the Queen that she who laughs last laughs longest,” Phillips said.

The convoy protests paralyzed downtown Ottawa for more than three weeks this winter, and at times included thousands of people who congregated in an occupation around Parliament Hill to denounce Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and call for the end of health measures such as COVID-19 vaccination mandates.

The situation prompted the government to invoke the Emergencies Act in February, a move that granted special powers to police and allowed bank accounts of protest participants to be frozen.

The government has argued the invocation was necessary because the protests caused economic harm and included a threat of violence motivated by political extremism. Groups like the Canadian Civil Liberties Association have challenged the necessity of the move, arguing that its use amounted to government overreach that could imperil Canadians’ ability to conduct disruptive protests of public policies.

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