City official testifies in slow-moving convoy trial

The criminal trial for two leaders of what became the “Freedom Convoy” continues to move at a glacial pace, with another series of delays coming Tuesday. 

Tamara Lich and Chris Barber are charged with mischief, counselling others to commit mischief, intimidation and obstructing police for their role in the weeks-long protest in February 2022.

Kim Ayotte, Ottawa’s manager of emergency and protective services, testified about the role he played during the trucker protests. He was in charge of the city’s bylaw enforcement, fire and paramedic services as well as the department overseeing special events. Ayotte also exchanged text messages with Barber during the protests.

He told court that city officials were planning for a “worst case scenario” as the truckers approached Ottawa because the city lacked intelligence from law enforcement.

He said he decided bylaw officers, paramedics and other city services operating in the “red zone” impacted by the protests would be accompanied by Ottawa police officers. 

“We weren’t sure of the risk level or the individuals involved and we were fearful for the safety of our officers, not knowing what the intent was of the protesters,” he said. 

As has become a regular occurrence in the trial, defence lawyers objected to the line of questioning the witness was getting from the Crown multiple times.

Chris Barber arrives for his trial at the Ottawa Courthouse on Sept. 11, 2023. (Justin Tang/The Canadian Press)

Ayotte had to vacate the courtroom while lawyers deliberated over the appropriateness of questions being put to him. By the time court ended Tuesday, he had been asked to leave at least five times. 

“You have another witness, your honour, where the expansion of their evidence is not accompanied by the appropriate scope,” said Lich’s counsel Lawrence Greenspon.

After a series of starts and stops, Crown lawyer Siobhain Wetscher said she had taken the witness as far as she could for the day, and proceedings came to an end shortly after.

Ayotte is expected to return to the stand on Wednesday morning.

Witness didn’t bring notes

His testimony had barely started on Tuesday when proceedings were stopped because he had not brought any notes. 

He told the court he didn’t think he’d need them, but Greenspon said they would be needed during his cross-examination. 

“This was a surprise to me, as I said in court, that he showed up without his notes,” he told reporters outside the courthouse. “His evidence is important.” 

Greenspon said the notes are needed to give details on conversations he had, meetings he attended and actions he took.

“You would expect if he took notes, which we know he did, that he would show up in court with those notes to assist him, and refresh his memory as to details, dates and times,” he said.

Court went on recess to allow Ayotte to retrieve his notes and he returned in the afternoon. 

A demonstrator carries a sign, as Canadian police work to restore normality to the capital while trucks and demonstrators continue to occupy the downtown core for more than three weeks to protest against pandemic restrictions in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada, February 19, 2022.
A demonstrator carries a sign to protest against pandemic restrictions in Ottawa, Feb. 19, 2022. (Lars Hagberg/Reuters)

Looking for more trial dates

Defence lawyers slightly changed tact on how they view some specific pieces of evidence on Tuesday.

Social media posts and videos from the Freedom Convoy 2022 Facebook page have been accepted as evidence. Crown lawyers are planning to use the posts to show Barber and Lich worked together, and evidence against one should apply to both.

Barber and Lich’s lawyers argue the content is irrelevant if it wasn’t posted directly by Lich or Barber, but now say they will make that argument on a post-by-post basis at the end of the trial.

Now in its third week, the trial continues to move at a slow pace — Crown lawyers are days behind the time allotted for them to make their arguments.

Already on its 10th day and with further delays potentially upcoming, Barber’s lawyer Diane Magas threatened that if the trial slows because of the Crown, she would consider seeking an application to have the charges withdrawn because her client’s right to be tried within a reasonable time would have been violated, also known as a Jordan application. 

Originally scheduled to sit for 16 days and wrap up in October, the judge-alone trial is now expected to take longer and court staff are looking for additional available dates in October and November. 

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