“Freedom Convoy” organizers are expected to testify at the public inquiry into the federal government’s use of the Emergencies Act starting today.
The witnesses are expected to shed light on the conception of the weeks-long demonstrations that gridlocked Ottawa streets last winter.
Several of the protest organizers, including Tamara Lich, Chris Barber and Pat King, are facing criminal charges related to their involvement.
Barber is expected to be the first to testify.
The inquiry is investigating the events leading up to the federal government’s emergency declaration Feb. 14, weeks into demonstrations that had gridlocked downtown Ottawa and spilled into border blockades elsewhere.
It has so far painted a picture of confusion and chaos among police forces and levels of government as officials tried to figure out how to respond.
By all accounts to date, the idea for the convoy to Ottawa appears to have been inspired by a TikTok video of two truck drivers.
Brigitte Belton, who is expected to testify after Barber, was one of the first people to conceive of the idea.
Barber was an early organizer, driving from his Saskatchewan home to Ottawa in January, with Lich at his side for much of the journey.
The two are co-accused of criminal mischief, obstructing police and counselling others to commit mischief and intimidation for their actions during the protest.
Protesters began to arrive in Ottawa on Jan. 28 to express their anger and opposition to the federal government and to COVID-19 restrictions, including vaccine mandates.
The protest quickly evolved into what police and government officials have described as an all-out occupation, with demonstrators blocking traffic, blaring truck horns and setting up camp in city streets.
The area outside Parliament Hill was only cleared weeks later, after Ottawa invoked the federal Emergencies Act on Feb. 14.
Public Order Emergency Commission hearings began in mid-October and are expected to continue until late November.
Lich has attended for the majority of the hearings, sitting in a public viewing area with friends and a small handful of supporters. Barber arrived in Ottawa last week and briefly attended one of the hearings.
Late Monday, the commission signalled that it intends to call Jeremy MacKenzie, the founder of online group “Diagolon,” to testify on Friday via videoconference.
MacKenzie was present for the protests in Ottawa and the group includes other members who supported the convoy.
MacKenzie’s lawyer has made an application to the commission asking that he testify in the absence of the public and parties or under a publication ban and saying that his presence in Ottawa last winter was “lawful and peaceable.”
He is currently in a Saskatchewan prison and was denied release earlier this month after being arrested in Nova Scotia on a Canada-wide warrant.
He was charged with assault, pointing a firearm, mischief and using a restricted weapon in a careless manner after police received a report about an alleged assault near Viscount, Sask., in November 2021.
MacKenzie was also charged in Nova Scotia with 13 firearms offences in January, and with harassment and intimidation in March after an anti-mask protest outside the home of Nova Scotia’s chief medical officer of health.
—David Fraser, The Canadian Press