CL in Canada: ‘Drop charges against Freedom Convoy truckers’

By John Steele
September 25, 2023
After using armed cops, gov’t Emergencies Act to crush “Freedom Convoy” protest in Ottawa, Canadian rulers have deepened assault on unions and political rights crucial for working class.
CBC/Evan MitsuiAfter using armed cops, gov’t Emergencies Act to crush “Freedom Convoy” protest in Ottawa, Canadian rulers have deepened assault on unions and political rights crucial for working class.

MONTREAL — “The frame-up trial of Tamara Lich and Chris Barber is the latest attack on the February 2022 Freedom Convoy protest in Ottawa by truckers and others opposed to vaccine mandates that barred truckers from making trips to and from the U.S.,” said a Communist League statement released Sept. 12. The trial is a major attack on democratic and political rights, on free speech and the right to protest.

“The unions and all defenders of democratic rights should demand an immediate end to the trial and the withdrawal of all charges against them and other participants in the protest.”

Lich said that the outcome of her trial will set a precedent for other convoy protesters awaiting trial. “That’s why I’m not going down without a fight,” she said.

Lich is a former leader of the Maverick Party, which backs autonomy for Western Canada. Barber is a truck driver in Saskatchewan who ran the CB Trucking company.

They were arrested and charged several days after Prime Minister Justin Trudeau invoked the never-before-used Emergencies Act against thousands of Ottawa protesters Feb. 14, 2022.

The arrests were followed by one of the most far-reaching acts of government repression in modern Canadian history. Over 3,000 police, using  military-grade weapons, armored vehicles, elite sharpshooters, stun grenades and other weapons shut down the protest. Over 200 participants were arrested, trucks were seized and bank accounts of many frozen.

The Trudeau government fraudulently claimed the protest constituted a “public order emergency.” The government’s real aim was to criminalize a legitimate political protest challenging government policies.

“In the context of the deepening economic, social and political crisis of the capitalist system, the use of the Emergencies Act against the truckers was a calculated, precedent-setting preemptive blow against rising working-class resistance and the use of union power to defend workers’ interests,” said the Communist League.

At the time, the executive board of the Ontario Public Service Employees Union issued a statement condemning the government’s use of the Emergencies Act, warning that “introducing the Emergencies Act sets a precedent that could be use against the labour movement when it holds protests in the future.”

Emboldened after putting down the Freedom Convoy protesters, the capitalist rulers stepped up their attacks on the rights of working people and the unions. Last November, the Ontario government imposed Bill 28 against 55,000 Ontario education support workers, members of the Canadian Union of Public Employees, declaring their planned strike illegal. The workers walked out in defiance of the law and forced the government to back down.

Eight months later, 7,400 workers in the International Longshore and Warehouse Union shut down the ports on Canada’s West Coast. Employer associations across the country demanded the government impose back-to-work legislation.

Trudeau, who previously had said that “all options” were on the table to put an end to the longshore workers’ fight, threatened to impose binding government arbitration.

Free speech is ‘criminal activity’

Both Lich and Barber were released from jail under draconian bail conditions, effectively losing their right to presumption of innocence, with Lich spending a total of 49 days behind bars despite never being convicted of a criminal act. At her second bail hearing she was brought to court in shackles to give the appearance of her being a convicted criminal. An outraged Superior Court judge ordered the shackles be removed and that she be released.

The right to free speech was trampled when Lich was forbidden from using social media for any reason, contacting any of the other leaders of the convoy or participating in activity opposing vaccine mandates.

Barber was released on $100,000 bail after agreeing to leave Ottawa, and never to take part in similar protests again. He was barred from communicating with other convoy leaders. Barber is effectively being held under house arrest until the trial is completed.

Both are charged with mischief, intimidation, and obstructing police. Barber is also charged with counseling others to disobey a court order — a myriad of charges in hopes that at least one will stick.

In his opening statement to the court, Crown prosecutor Timothy Radcliffe cynically claimed the charges against Lich and Barber had nothing to do with their political views or their right to express them, but about their use of “unlawful means” to press Ottawa to change its COVID-19 mandate policies. He claimed the protest was “anything but peaceful.”

Defense lawyers countered that during the three-week protest involving thousands of people not one violent incident took place. Efforts by the organizers to negotiate an agreement with police to reduce the disruptive impact of the action on Ottawa citizens were rebuffed. Police negotiators said they received orders not to give “one inch” in concessions to the convoy, but declined to say whether government officials gave the orders.

In Trudeau’s testimony to Public Order Emergency Commission hearings held in November 2022, he made it clear that the government considers such protests illegitimate. “It wasn’t that [protesters] just wanted to be heard. They wanted us to change public health policy,” he said.

Since when is that illegal? The objective of most demonstrations is to pressure capitalist governments to change policies protesters consider harmful. The prosecution calls this “intimidation” of government, one of the charges Lich and Barber face.

Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland justified Trudeau’s invoking the Emergencies Act, telling the commission the protest was “profoundly jeopardizing” the capitalist economy. This language could be used against any strike, reinforcing Ontario Public Service Employees Union’s warning about the potential use of the Emergencies Act against striking workers.

Justice Heather Perkins-McVey is presiding over the trial, and, in the absence of a jury, will rule on whether Lich and Barber are guilty.

Trials of other protesters are to come.

The Communist League is urging unions and other groups to join in protesting the attack on political rights.