“Freedom Convoy” organizer Tamara Lich is insisting she was never directly told to leave Ottawa during last winter’s protests, when hundreds of vehicles blocked streets around Parliament Hill as Lich and others called for an end to COVID-19 mandates.
Under cross-examination at the Public Order Emergency Commission on Friday, Lich said that when police told protesters in a mid-February meeting to depart, she took that as a suggestion.
She and other organizers had told the inquiry, which is tasked with investigating the federal government’s decision to invoke the Emergencies Act on Feb. 14, on Thursday that police did not tell them to leave the city.
Ottawa police lawyer David Migicovsky showed Lich a police log entry from that Feb. 16 meeting Friday, when officers wrote that they told her to “depart, and message this out to others.” They later noted that, “All parties were upset and Lich was crying.”
Lich said she remembers becoming emotional.
“I think I said something to the effect of ‘I can’t believe that you’re about to do this to your own people,’” she said.
She told the commission she still felt those instructions were merely a suggestion to leave.
Paul Champ, the lawyer representing Ottawa residents and businesses, reminded the commission that GoFundMe shut down Lich’s fundraising campaign because the protest was deemed an unlawful occupation.
He said the city and the province then declared states of emergency.
In the meantime, local residents launched a lawsuit against the organizers and the court granted an injunction to stop protesters from honking truck horns at night.
“That wasn’t a message that maybe it was time to leave?” Champ asked Lich.
“We had a message too,” Lich replied. She told the commission that after hearing “heartbreaking” stories during the pandemic, she felt that the protesters’ message was more important.
She did say that she would have left if the court had ordered her to.
“My understanding was that as long as we were peaceful and complied with the order we were permitted to stay,” she said, in response to a question from her own lawyer, Brendan Miller.
—Laura Osman and David Fraser, The Canadian Press