'Freedom Convoy' protesters wouldn't leave as police moved in, court hears

WATCH - Lawyers for 'Freedom Convoy' organizers attempt to block Ottawa residents from testifying

Freedom Convoy” protesters were resistant to clearing the streets along Parliament Hill last year as lines of police in crowd-control gear attempted to push them out, a Quebec provincial police officer told an Ottawa courtroom Monday.

Capt. Etienne Martel with Surete du Quebec took the stand through a French interpreter in the criminal trial of Tamara Lich and Chris Barber, who are facing charges related to their role in the 2022 protest.

The two were among the original organizers of the demonstration, which blockaded streets and intersections around Ottawa for three weeks in protest against COVID-19 public-health restrictions, vaccine mandates and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s government.

Martel led a squad of more than 45 officers who assisted Ottawa police in trying to disperse the crowds in the final days of the three-week protest.

His squad was on the front line on Feb. 18 as police advanced slowly down Wellington Street toward Parliament Hill, face-to-face with a large crowd of protesters that outnumbered police.

“The reason that we were going slowly is because it was a heavy presence of demonstrators that prevented us from moving forward,” Martel told the court through an interpreter.

At times, the demonstrators yelled and pushed back against police, he said, but they didn’t throw any projectiles.

His group barely managed to advance 150 meters by late that evening, Martel said.

Barber and Lich were arrested on Feb. 17, before the police operation. The Crown hopes to prove that they encouraged the crowds to “hold the line” as police ordered protesters to leave the area around Parliament Hill.

The Crown took the court through several police videos recorded during the two-day operation. Some show Martel’s squad on the front line as a crowd of demonstrators refused to move, and shouted “hold the line” and “freedom.”

Lich and Barber’s lawyers have not yet cross-examined the witness, whose testimony is expected to continue Monday afternoon.

© 2023 The Canadian Press

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