Tamara Lich, one of the most prominent organizers of the Ottawa convoy that gridlocked the city’s streets for over three weeks, says the judge who denied her bail was biased against her cause and has asked the court to review the decision.
Lich was arrested Feb. 17 and charged with counselling mischief, the day before police moved in to disperse crowds in downtown Ottawa using powers invoked under the federal Emergencies Act.
Ontario Court Justice Julie Bourgeois denied Lich bail on Feb. 22, having deemed the convoy organizer a risk to reoffend. In her decision at the time, Bourgeois said she felt Lich was obstinate and disingenuous in her responses to the court, and that her detention was “necessary for the protection and safety of the public.”
In court Wednesday, Lich’s lawyer filed an affidavit on her behalf that said had she known Bourgeois was a Liberal candidate in the 2011 federal election, she would have asked the justice to recuse herself from the case.
“Had I had that information beforehand, I would have felt uncomfortable with the situation,” Lich told the court Wednesday.
She spent the majority of the hearing sitting up straight in the accused dock with her hands folded in her lap, her blond hair in a high bun and a mask over her face.
While protests in downtown Ottawa were mainly aimed at COVID-19 restrictions and vaccine mandates, demonstrators also took aim at Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his Liberal party with profane flags and slogans.
Lich’s lawyer, Diane Magas, also argued that Bourgeois repeatedly referred to the impact of the protest on “our community” in her decision to keep Lich in jail.
“If a justice feels impacted in our community, in her community, in my submission she should not sit. There should be an out of town judge,” Magas told the court.
Fellow protest organizer Chris Barber, who travelled by convoy from Alberta to Ottawa with Lich, was arrested the same day as her and charged with mischief, counselling to commit mischief, to disobey a court order and to obstruct police.
He was granted bail on Feb. 18 by the same justice who initially ordered Lich to remain in custody.
Crown counsel Moiz Karimjee said the allegation against Bourgeois is “frivolous,” and suggested that Lich lied when she said she would have asked for another judge.
“Really? When the day before, the judge released her friend Mr. Barber?” Karimjee asked the court. “That allegation has no merit whatsoever, and indicates that Ms. Lich is capable of lying under oath.”
Wednesday’s bail review hearing was delayed slightly as hundreds of spectators attempted to log into the video conference carrying the proceedings, and flooded the chat with messages of support.
Lich has been described as the public face of the protest. One of the lawyers assisting the demonstrators called Lich “the spark that lit this fire and the leader of this organization” at a news conference less than one week into the Ottawa protest.
Lich led the GoFundMe campaign that raised more than $10 million for the so-called Freedom Convoy protest in Ottawa, before the website pulled the plug on the campaign and refunded donations, citing local political leaders’ concerns the demonstration had become an “occupation.”
In order to reopen Lich’s bail hearing, the judge would have to find Bourgeois made an “error in law” or that the circumstances have changed.
Magas said Bourgeois made an error when she said Lich was a danger to the public, as Lich advocated for peaceful protest and has not been charged with a violent offence.
“There’s been no suggestions of violence, intimidation, threats, destruction of property of any sorts by Ms. Lich, or even her encouraging such activities,” Magas said.
The Crown argued there have been no errors made, and the circumstances surrounding Lich’s bail application have not changed.
Karimjee said to release Lich into the community would send the message that people can “flagrantly breach the rule of law, show no respect, no genuine respect for the law.”
A decision is expected Monday.
Other key figures in the Ottawa protest, Pat King and Daniel Bulford, were denied bail for charges related to their role in the protests over the risk they would reoffend.