OTTAWA—A deal between Freedom Convoy organizers and the City of Ottawa to move the protesters' large trucks from residential neighbourhoods to Wellington Street was an "extraordinarily complex undertaking," the former mayor's chief of staff testified at the trial of Tamara Lich and Chris Barber on Sept. 21.
"I was told on at least a few occasions that it would be extraordinarily complex as an undertaking to convince every single truck driver that needed to be convinced at the appropriate time, to be present, to be there with their keys, and to move their rig at the time," testified Serge Arpin, outgoing chief of staff to Jim Watson, who was the mayor of Ottawa at the time of the convoy protests in January and February 2022.
"They explained to us that it would not be something that they could do in one day. It was just too large an undertaking, and we believed that, and we wanted to set public expectations that if only 25 trucks were moved in the morning of February 14, that would be a success, because it was extraordinarily complicated from a logistical perspective to pull it off."
Mr. Arpin was referring to negotiations between the protest's organizers and the city to move transport trucks out of downtown Ottawa neighbourhoods and onto the street in front of Parliament Hill during the Freedom Convoy protest.
The protest began in response to COVID-19 vaccine mandates imposed in mid-January 2022 by the federal government on truckers crossing the Canada-U.S. border.
It later escalated into three weeks of large-scale protests in downtown Ottawa by those opposed to the feds' pandemic restrictions and mandates. In mid-February 2022 the federal government invoked the Emergencies Act for the first time ever to bring the protest to an end.
Mr. Barber and Ms. Lich, two of the most prominent organizers of the Freedom Convoy protest, are charged with mischief, counselling to commit mischief, intimidation, and obstructing police. Mr. Barber faces an additional charge of counselling others to disobey a court order.
Mr. Arpin said that on Feb. 12, he sent a letter to Ms. Lich on behalf of Mr. Watson to ask the trucker protest participants to remove their trucks from residential areas, where they were causing "quality-of-life issues."
He told the court that if the organizers were "prepared to show significant progress towards that goal," then Mr. Watson would "grant them a listening meeting to hear their issues out."
Deal Falls ThroughThe court also heard from Ottawa's emergency services manager Kim Ayotte, who detailed how the negotiations between the city and the protest organizers fell apart. Mr. Ayotte was present at the Feb. 13 meeting between city staff, convoy organizers, and police, at which the initial agreement was made.
Mr. Ayotte also confirmed that no city staff had mentioned the coming injunction application to protesters during the Feb. 13 meeting with organizers. He said he wanted the injunction because it was "another tool for us to use to provide greater enforcement if required for the police and for our officers to use," and it "had more weight in the court system."
While the Crown had originally planned to call 22 witnesses over 10 days, proceedings have fallen behind schedule due to technical difficulties and deliberations between lawyers. Only four witnesses have completed their testimony so far.