Tamara Lich admitted in court Thursday that accepting an award for organizing the Freedom Convoy “is related” to the convoy, but testified she doesn’t believe she violated a bail condition not to support anything related to the protest that occupied some downtown Ottawa streets for weeks.
She made the comments on the first day of her second bail review in Ottawa’s Superior Court, a proceeding peppered with tense, dramatic exchanges between Crown prosecutor Moiz Karimjee and Justice Kevin Phillips.
Lich, who is charged jointly with fellow convoy organizer Chris Barber, is accused of mischief, counselling mischief, obstructing police, counselling to obstruct police, counselling intimidation, and intimidation by blocking and obstructing one or more highways in relation to the protest.
She has been out on bail since March 7, bound by another Superior Court justice’s order not to “verbally, in writing, financially, or by any other means, support anything related to the Freedom Convoy,” and to stay out of Ontario, among other conditions.
Lich emailed to say she’d be honoured to accept
During examination by defence lawyer Lawrence Greenspon on Thursday, Lich testified via a Zoom video link from Alberta that she wants her bail conditions changed to allow her to visit Ottawa. The reasons are subject to a court-ordered publication ban and cannot be disclosed.
She also testified she would “love to attend” an event in Toronto in June to accept a freedom award, “however I won’t be breaching my bail conditions in order to do so.”
On March 28, a charity called the Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms emailed Lich to notify her she’d been selected for its 2022 George Jonas Freedom Award, she told court.
The email, which she read aloud, said the honour was being given “in recognition of your leadership role in the Freedom Convoy.”
The award announcement on the centre’s website states Lich “took the initiative to help organize a peaceful protest and serve as one of its leaders. The resulting peaceful protest in Ottawa awakened many Canadians to the injustice of Charter-violating lockdowns and mandatory vaccination policies.”
It also states she “suffered for the cause of freedom by spending 18 days unjustly jailed, and exemplifies courage, determination and perseverance.”
The day after receiving the email, Lich emailed back to say she was “honoured” to accept. She didn’t inquire about whether it would be OK, she testified under cross examination by Karimjee.
Asked whether by accepting the award she was supporting something related to the convoy, Lich said, “I guess, yeah. I guess so.
“I don’t feel that this is a breach. I don’t feel that that’s what the recognition is for. … I feel that the recognition is for inspiring Canadians to hold the government to account to the rule of law and to uphold their Charter rights,” she continued.
“I guess it is related, because of what happened,” she added.
Crown asks judge to recuse himself
Just before a 15-minute late afternoon break, Phillips told court Karimjee’s decorum surprised him, and asked Karimjee to “contemplate that.”
When court reconvened Karimjee said he was just “doing my job” and began to list some of his problems with the justice’s remarks and rulings, including that Phillips had earlier refused to allow the email notifying Lich about her award to be submitted to court.
Phillips interrupted. “I’m not interested in an argument,” the justice told the Crown. “Proceed with your cross examination.”
“No, I’m not arguing with you —” Karimjee began.
“I don’t want to engage in this,” Phillips interrupted again. “Proceed with your cross examination. I don’t want to hear from you. I want you to cross examine the witness. Proceed, please.”
“Your honour, I frankly need to consider whether I need to bring a mistrial application given your honour’s comments,” Karimjee replied.
“I’m asking you to cross examine the witness, Mr. Karimjee,” Phillips said.
“No your honour, it’s more than that,” Karimjee replied. “… This is a significant case. … When confronted with things that I believe to be improper, I’m not going to remain silent.”
“Have you got a question for the witness?” Phillips asked after a long pause.
“I am asking your honour to recuse yourself,” Karimjee replied.
“That request is denied. Go ahead with your cross examination,” Phillips said, and Karimjee promptly continued questioning Lich.
Off to a rocky start from the get-go
Proceedings had gotten off to a rocky start hours earlier.
The Crown had been expected to argue that Lich should be put back in jail for allegedly continuing to support the Freedom Convoy, and Lich’s defence team was expected to fight a bail condition that she stay off social media entirely.
But instead the Crown asked the judge to rule on whether a Superior Court justice has the authority to respond to alleged errors of law by other Superior Court justices.
Karimjee argued that Phillips could deal only with arguments about material changes in circumstances. Ruling on a fellow justice’s errors of law could result in counsel seeking bail review after bail review until a justice gave them a favourable ruling, Karimjee told court.
After a 20-minute recess Phillips rejected the Crown’s argument, opening up submissions to alleged errors of law as well as material changes in circumstance. By then it was “regrettably” 12:30 p.m. and hearing evidence had still not yet begun, Phillips told court.
Judge says its not his job to determine Lich violated conditions
The Crown’s first and only witness was Ottawa police Sgt. Mahad Hassan, the file co-ordinator in the case. (Det. Chris Benson is the lead investigator, but was busy testifying in a homicide case, court heard.)
Hassan testified he believed the more expensive VIP tickets to the Toronto freedom award event would give those ticketholders “a chance to meet the VIPs that are featured on the pamphlets” — in this case Lich and columnist Rex Murphy.
During cross examination by Greenspon, Hassan admitted there was no mention that Lich would be in attendance.
While Karimjee was leading Hassan’s evidence in chief, Phillips bristled at the idea that he might be asked to decide whether Lich violated her bail condition, instead of police.
“That’s a task I’m unfamiliar with. I’m not usually a police officer of release conditions. … Are you trying to put me in a position to find a breach here, to declare that she’s broken the law?” Phillips asked.
Karimjee responded that he’s entitled to lead evidence proving Lich violated the terms of her release, citing the Criminal Code.
Lich arrested in February
Lich was arrested Feb. 17 and originally charged with counselling to commit mischief, shortly before before a major police operation cleared protesters and vehicles from Ottawa streets.
She was initially denied bail by Ontario Court Justice Julie Bourgeois, who told court she found Lich to be guarded and “almost obstructive” at times, and who wasn’t convinced Lich would go home, stay home and stop her alleged counselling.
Lich and her then lawyer Diane Magas appealed Bourgeois’ decision, leading to her first bail review in the higher court in early March.
Superior Court Justice John Johnston ruled in Lich’s favour after the one-day proceeding, saying she had been a “valued employee” in Alberta and had lived a “crime free” life, and that the risk in Ottawa had been minimized after police cleared streets.
Lich was released after spending about 18 days in custody at the Ottawa-Carleton Detention Centre. Other bail conditions included that she leave Ottawa within 24 hours, refrain from using social media, and have no contact with certain co-organizers.
A surety for Lich — who cannot be identified due to a court-ordered publication ban — put up a $20,000 cash bond, while Lich herself put up an additional $5,000 cash bond.
Lich’s bail review continues Friday morning.