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Jail 'Freedom Convoy' organizer Tamara Lich again, Crown argues in heated hearing

The Crown says Lich has violated one of her bail conditions by agreeing to accept a 'freedom award' from the Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms, a legal advocacy group that supported the protest
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Tamara Lich, organizer for a protest convoy by truckers and supporters demanding an end to COVID-19 vaccine mandates, delivers a statement during a news conference in Ottawa, Thursday, Feb. 3, 2022. Lich has been accused of breaching her bail conditions and the Crown argues she should be placed back in jail until her trial. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld

OTTAWA — A Crown prosecutor argued on Thursday that Tamara Lich, an organizer of the "Freedom Convoy," breached her bail conditions by accepting an award for her leadership during the Ottawa protest.

A judge initially denied Lich bail after her arrest during the massive protest that overtook downtown Ottawa for more than three weeks in February, but she was released in March after a review of the court decision.

Lich and fellow protest organizer Chris Barber are jointly accused of mischief, obstructing police, counselling others to commit mischief and intimidation.

She was released with a long list of conditions, including a ban from all social media and an order not to "support anything related to the Freedom Convoy."

The Crown says Lich has violated one of her bail conditions by agreeing to accept a "freedom award" from the Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms, a legal advocacy group that supported the protest.

The organization planned to honour her at a gala celebration for inspiring "Canadians to exercise their Charter rights and freedoms by participating actively in the democratic process," and leading the “Freedom Convoy” protest in Ottawa. 

That protest evolved into a weeks-long demonstration that gridlocked the streets of Ottawa. The federal government eventually invoked the Emergencies Act for the first time in Canadian history in an effort to dislodge the participants.

"Ms. Lich has suffered for the cause of freedom by spending 18 days unjustly jailed, and exemplifies courage, determination and perseverance," the organization wrote in a statement on its website, which the Crown included in its notice of application.

Lich told the court she learned she won the award for her leadership role in the protest in an email on March 28, and responded that she'd be honoured to accept.

"You were supporting something related to the Freedom Convoy," Crown counsel Moiz Karimjee charged when Lich took the stand by video conference.

"Yeah, I guess so," Lich told the court, but said she didn't feel it was a breach of her conditions. 

"I don't feel like 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 also told the court "there is no convoy anymore."

Karimjee argued in court that Lich should return to jail to wait for her trail.

The website said Lich would attend the award dinner in Toronto on June 16, if a review of her bail conditions would allow her to attend, as well as events in Vancouver and Calgary. 

The Toronto event is expected to include a keynote address by columnist Rex Murphy.

Over the course of the arguments, the justice repeatedly admonished the Crown for his "decorum," until Karimjee made the extraordinary request for Ontario Superior Court Justice Kevin Phillips to recuse himself from the hearing.

"I frankly need to consider whether I need to bring a mistrial application given Your Honour's comments," Karimjee said before asking the judge to withdraw from the hearing, telling the court he was just doing his job.

"That request is denied," Phillips responded.

Despite the tense exchange between the Crown and the Justice Phillips, Lich appeared far more relaxed than during previous hearings, when she had sat up straight with her lands in her lap.

On Thursday, she appeared slouched in her chair with her arm hanging over the back, sucking on lozenges to ease a sore throat.

During the protest, Keith Wilson, a Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms lawyer, spoke on behalf of the convoy protesters at a news conference and described Lich as a client. He represented Lich and other members of the protest during civil proceedings in February that saw an injunction placed on the noise that protesters blasted from their trucks day and night in the early days of the demonstration. 

"Tamara Lich ought to be detained," the Crown's notice of application concludes. 

Lich's lawyer, Lawrence Greenspon, challenged the idea that the award gala was connected with the protest. He said the event doesn't appear to be a fundraiser for the protest movement.

Ottawa Sgt. Mahad Hassan told the court Lich wasn't arrested for the alleged breach, even though police felt they had the grounds, after a conversation with the Crown on May 3. 

The police and the Crown decided to deal with the issue at the scheduled bail review hearing instead.

Meanwhile, Lich's lawyers plan to argue that her bail conditions are too restrictive and should be reconsidered.

Greenspon told the court Thursday that the social media ban imposed on Lich was unnecessarily broad and has had a huge impact on her life while she's been out of custody. 

He said she wishes to be in contact with her 94-year-old grandmother by social media and communicate with her friends and family.

The hearing is expected to continue Friday.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 19, 2022.

Laura Osman, The Canadian Press