The young public servant thrust into the spotlight when she agreed to become the lead plaintiff in a multi-million-dollar proposed class action against Freedom Convoy organizers is testifying in the criminal trial of two of them: Tamara Lich and Chris Barber.
Zexi Li’s testimony came on the 17th day of trial for Lich and Barber, who are each charged with mischief, counselling others to commit mischief, intimidation and obstructing police for their role in the weeks-long protest in January and February of 2022.
Shadowed by court security, she said from the witness box it was “near impossible” to get by during the protest and “difficult to live as a human being,” describing the horns as “constant.”
She said the horns blared “most commonly” between 7 a.m. and 11 p.m. and sometimes there were occasional blasts of horns throughout the night. She also described a “very loud” noise that was reminiscent of an air raid horn.
Li is one of the local witnesses called by Crown lawyers, along with business owners and other residents, to illustrate the scope, nature and consequences of the protests and “rebut” any suggestion it was peaceful.
The Crown is trying to establish that Lich and Barber had “control and influence” over the crowds and encouraged others to join the protests while also fundraising.
‘Intimidated’ by protesters, Li says
After a court injunction was successfully granted against the honking, Li said horns continued to blare though they were less common, along with some “scheduled” honking as the noise “permeated my existence,” she testified.
“The honking happened so consistently that even when it wasn’t [happening], I could expect it to happen at any other time.”
Li, wearing a white silky V-neck T-shirt with matching wide-leg dress pants, said during the following weeks of protests there would be “scheduled” honking.
“The sound was less sporadic and more like the sound is all happening. closer to the same moment, rather than it being more spread out,” she said, adding there were also other instances of “collective honking” taking place.
During cross-examination, Li told Lich’s lawyer Lawrence Greenspon she heard honking specifically on Feb. 7 and then again on either Feb. 17 and 18.
She said she couldn’t speak to the duration or specific dates of when she heard honking, an air-raid siren, megaphones, a roaming horn or fireworks.
The injunction granted on her behalf sought only to stop the honking for an initial period of 10 days, allowing for peaceful, lawful and safe protests to be permitted so long as the injunction wasn’t violated.
The injunction was extended beyond the original 10-day period after the original order expired, with the same terms in place.
Barber faces an additional charge of counselling others to disobey the Feb. 7 court order that banned loud honking in Ottawa’s downtown core.
Earlier in the trial, court heard how two days after the Ontario Superior Court granted the original injunction against honking, Barber posted a video to TikTok warning supporters there were rumours police action could be coming within days.
In the video submitted as evidence, Barber says the “horns have to be quiet” — but if a trucker sees police enforcement starting, they should “grab that horn switch and don’t let go of that.”
Li described feeling “intimidated” by an encounter with a trucker who shook his fist and honked his horn, and described protesters establishing structures to become more entrenched as the Freedom Convoy continued, including a “makeshift soup kitchen.”
By the third week, after the injunction had been granted against honking, she said protesters became “hostile” when she was taking pictures. She described calling police after a truck backed into her.
Under cross-examination, she said the truck didn’t make contact with her “only because I moved out of the way.”
She said she believed police filed a report but no further action was taken as a result of the incident.
Li also described convoy vehicles slowing down ambulances that had been responding to a call and roads that were “completely blocked off,” but she couldn’t remember specifics.
She also said she couldn’t take the bus because routes were relocated and the smell of gasoline from idling vehicles in the downtown core was “almost inescapable at times.”
At one point during her testimony, she was cautioned to stop using the word “occupation” because the trial is using “protest” or “demonstration” to describe the events of the convoy, while “occupation” has a different legal definition.
Barber’s lawyer Diane Magas objected to the continued use of the term saying the word was “irritating” and “inflammatory.” Justice Heather McVey-Perkins told court the language could impact the credibility of Li’s testimony.
The latter portion of court Monday was highlighted by Greenspon asking Li about conversations she had after exiting the witness box.
Li said she spoke with her lawyer for “not more than five to ten minutes” in the courthouse before leaving, while Greenspon wanted to know whether she had spoken about her testimony with her legal counsel in her civil case, which would have violated directions of the court.
Li, who was seen exiting the courthouse in tears, said she was “upset” after leaving the courthouse.
“I was trying to calm myself and as a result of my reaction we decided that I would go home alone over lunch,” she said Monday in front of a crowd that was slightly larger than typical for the trial.
Li’s cross-examination by Greenspon and Magas continued with the two trying to poke holes in her credibility by comparing what she had told the court and what she said in her testimony at the Public Order Emergency Commission (POEC) one year ago.
The POEC differed from a criminal trial in several ways. For example, hearsay evidence was admissible, but that’s not the case in a criminal trial.
The lawyers focused on how she described the frequency of honking and her response to the protest, including her recollection of telling protesters to, “Go back to where the f–k you are from”, her “disappointment” with the police response and her knowledge of an incident wear eggs were thrown at the protesters from the building she was living in.
“I think that her testimony on the surface was genuine as to how she felt about things, but when you went beyond this to what she actually said under oath, there were numerous contradictions,” Greenspon said outside the courthouse. “So that’ll be something that the judge has to consider when looking at her credibility.”
Final resident testifies
Paul Jorgenson, who testified at the end of Monday as the likely final resident to be called as a witness, said during the protest he lived in a highrise building at the corner of Kent Street and Laurier Avenue West.
“It was incessant, it was extremely loud, it’s hard to convey in words how upsetting, how impossible it made basic life, basic higher-level thought,” said Jorgenson, adding it was untenable to conduct required work meetings.
He said he had to drive on the sidewalk in order to escape the protest.
After finally leaving his home for several days, he returned to the city and found the situation had become more “livable” with less honking and congestion despite occasional “flare-ups.”
Barber and Lich, who continue to attend the trial, sat with loved ones and supporters in the front row Monday.
The Crown is expected to call more police witnesses as the trial extends beyond the original expected length of 16 days.