Tamara Lich is no villain and the government knows it
If you’ve been watching the Public Order Emergency Commission hearings, you may have heard lawyers cite "the Lawton book” in their cross-examinations. I’m honoured my journalistic look at the Freedom Convoy has made it into the record. If you haven’t yet read it, you can pick up a copy here.
Freedom Convoy organizers took the stand last week at the Public Order Emergency Commission. There were few surprises. The organizers who testified stressed their commitment to peaceful protest, their cooperation with law enforcement, their earnest desire for a meeting with someone in the federal government, and their record of denouncing problematic actors in their midst.
No one who heard what they have to say could possibly believe they were terrorists, as one protester outside the proceedings claims.
There was a revealing moment Friday when Paul Champ, the lawyer representing Ottawa residents and businesses, took a sympathetic tone in his cross-examination of convoy fundraiser Tamara Lich.
“I want to start with something, Ms. Lich, that I think we both agree on,” Champ said. “You’re not a national security threat in any way?”
“I don’t believe I am, no,” Lich said.
Regarding the millions of dollars raised by the convoy, Champ said to Lich: “You did everything you could to keep track of that money and deal with it responsibly, the money that was going to your account?”
“Absolutely, yes sir,” Lich replied.
“And in no way did you ever divert any of that money towards yourself improperly,” Champ said. “You dealt very responsibly in every day you could with the money?”
“Yes, sir,” Lich answered.
One should not mistake Champ’s approach for genuine support or sympathy. He has been harshly critical of the convoy and is representing plaintiffs in a proposed $300 million class action lawsuit against Lich and other convoy organizers.
Through his questioning, he seemed to be trying to craft a narrative of a protest getting larger and more out-of-control than organizers intended or could keep up with.
This is a far cry from the narrative others have attempted that cast Lich and other organizers as villains. Anyone who watched Lich’s testimony knows that no one could convincingly make such a claim about her.
Lich is under restrictive bail conditions preventing her from speaking about the convoy, so her testimony was her first opportunity to tell her story in the nearly nine months since she was arrested.
Lich was articulate, compassionate, humble, and at times naïve, especially when speaking about her optimism that the federal government would listen to the message she and other protesters brought to Ottawa.
While the angry Twitter chorus was unconvinced, real people were. A woman I know who supported vaccine mandates a year ago told me this morning how outraged she was by what the government has subjected Lich to.
It seemed her candour even caused the government to change tack.
In her cross-examination of Lich, Government of Canada lawyer Andrea Gonsalves spent a considerable portion of her time building a narrative that Lich was so busy dealing with lawyers and fundraising and press conferences that she wasn’t all that connected to the situation on the ground.
Here are a few of her questions:
“You were staying in the hotels, right?”
“It was incredibly busy and surely exhausting for you?”
“You were dealing with the funds being frozen, setting up bank accounts. That all took a lot of your time?”
“There were new people arriving all the time that wanted to meet with you?”
“You, I gather in all of this, couldn’t leave your hotel very often?”
In just a few minutes, Lich went from being the criminal mastermind of a honk-filled insurrection to an overworked bystander disconnected from the horrors supposedly unfolding on the streets outside her hotel.
It’s a remarkable pivot from the same government that froze Lich’s bank accounts and is currently prosecuting her for her organizational role in the convoy. Now that Canadians have heard from Lich themselves, the government knows it can’t sell her as a villain.
Canadians could see the government moving the goalposts as its previous narrative about the Emergencies Act crumbled in real time.
After weeks of Public Order Emergency Commission testimony, it’s clear the Emergencies Act’s defenders know they’re losing.
The government now seems to be trying to separate organizers from the protest they oversaw. This is particularly evident in questions about the organizers’ admissions that they had no direct control over any truckers or protesters.
Lawyers for the government have tried to delegitimize the agreement reached by organizers and the City of Ottawa to relocate trucks out of residential areas. It might be a compelling strategy if organizers didn’t have proof (supported by police and the City of Ottawa’s witnesses) that they were getting buy-in from truckers and had managed to get dozens of them to move.
The lack of direct control over protesters was a feature of the convoy, not a bug. It was the movement’s grassroots nature that made it so powerful and made it all the more impressive that it wasn’t coopted by those with ulterior motives.
The public faces of the convoy were not managers, but leaders. They set the tone and protesters followed because they believed in them, not because they had to.
Canadians may not see them as heroes, but they certainly can’t see them as villains.
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