Organizers of the “Freedom Convoy” discussed using their ties to Métis identity to play the “race card” as part of an overall strategy to control their public image and gain sympathy for their cause, the text messages suggest.
Messages between Tamara Lich and Chris Barber, obtained by Ottawa police and entered into evidence by the Crown at Lich’s bail hearing this week, indicate how aware organizers were of the optics of the protest.
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The convoy’s connection to Pat King, who has spread racist conspiracy theories, as well as the display of Nazi and Confederate flags in the early days of the protest, prompted accusations that he was sympathetic to white nationalist causes.
As they planned the convoy, Lich and Barber seemed aware that racial identity might come up in criticism. Lich has described herself as Métis, and on January 20, about a week before the protesters arrived in Ottawa, Barber texted Lich that her wife was also Métis.
“It’s going to work in our favor,” Lich replied. “Playing the career card works both ways lol.”
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That same day, Lich complimented Barber on his podcast interview, describing it as very “PC”—or politically correct—”but also direct.”
Barber told Lich on Jan. 22 that all his years of “social media trolling” were going to pay off. “I’m going to turn around and use everything against him,” he said, referring to critics of the convoy.
The protest against COVID-19 restrictions and the liberal government invaded the center of the capital with large trucks, blocking streets and honking horns for more than three weeks. Protesters also blocked multiple border crossings. Everything led the federal government to invoke the Emergency Law and the police to use force to clear the crowd.
For their role in the protest, Lich and Barber have been charged with mischief, obstructing police, counseling others to commit mischief, and intimidation.
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Barber remains free on bail, while a justice of the peace ruled Friday that Lich had violated a condition of release and revoked his bail.
At Lich’s bail hearing this week, Barber’s attorney was granted a ban on the release of court documents showing his cell phone communications, except those with Lich.
Barber’s attorney, Diane Magas, said the Crown’s presentation may lack the full context or intent of the messages, and could be misleading or misconstrued.
The 4,000-page document filed in court says it includes all the messages, numbering in the thousands, found on Barber’s phone. Dozens are directly between Barber and Lich, not including group chats.
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Lich’s attorney, Lawrence Greenspon, declined to comment on the messages outside of court on Friday.
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Conversations between the pair seem to illuminate their changing feelings about King. He is known for pushing white nationalists’ “great replacement theory,” based on anxiety that whites are being replaced.
King remains in an Ottawa jail on charges of mischief, intimidation, obstruction of police, disobeying a court order, perjury and obstruction of justice.
His attorney has not yet responded to requests for comment.
On Jan. 22, Lich told Barber that they needed to have “a very frank discussion” with King, raising concerns about past allegations against him.
Despite these concerns, Lich also said that the movement needed him, in apparent contrast to later statements in which the convoy tried to distance itself from King.
“We need him and I don’t care about his past, but it only takes one,” he said. “We have to control his rhetoric. Not even threatening to throw snowballs at parliament (sic)”.
“I know you have had problems. I have skeletons in the closet for (sic),” Barber responded.
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But a few days later, on January 26, Lich said that if King “doesn’t stop now and right now, he needs to go home.”
“Honestly, I hate doing it. I think a part of his heart is in this for the right reasons, but he will bring this whole thing down.”
On January 29, the day after the convoy reached the capital, Barber texted Lich about an interview King had done.
“I am concerned that he is putting us in a bad light. are you supposed to speak today?? I’m nervous about what she’s going to say,” she said.
“No. He’s not talking. Period. We have people who will take care of him,” Lich said.
A text message from Lich to Barber on Jan. 30 said he had received a call from the “command center” that he had a “strategy to shut down the city.”
“Can you go there with me soon?” he asked Barber. “I don’t want to make those decisions on my own.”
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During this period, some Conservative MPs applauded the convoy’s arrival, as the party opposed the Trudeau government’s vaccination mandates for federal workers and travellers.
On January 31, Conservative MP Marilyn Gladu posted a photo on social media of her and her caucus colleague Candice Bergen in a restaurant with two men Gladu described as “hard-working truckers in Ottawa.”
Erin O’Toole’s reluctance to define a clear position on the protest was one of the reasons the majority of her group fired him on February 2 and replaced him with Bergen as interim leader.
A couple of days later, Lich wrote: “Candace Bergen (sic) wants to meet us soon. What do you think?”
Barber did not directly answer the question. The next day, Lich expressed his excitement about appearing in an American media outlet.
“We have to be on Fox at 6:30,” he wrote.
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Christopher Martin-Chan, a Bergen spokesman, said no meeting ultimately took place between convoy representatives and the interim leader.
Conservative MP Glen Motz had been speaking to Lich and was willing to act as a liaison for MPs to hear their concerns. He suggested meetings with Public Security Minister Marco Mendicino and Transportation Minister Omar Alghabra, Martin-Chan said.
Motz confirmed that he spoke directly with Lich “in an effort to resolve the ongoing protest” and tried to facilitate a meeting with the ministers.
“Unfortunately, after several talks with both ministers, they refused any resolution meeting with the organizer of the protest,” he said, adding that he believes that if the Liberal government had taken that meeting, the protest would have been resolved differently.
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The Alghabra office said in a statement that it was “not appropriate or responsible for Canadians to meet with people who have blocked our borders, damaged our economy and terrorized residents of downtown Ottawa.”
A spokesman for Mendicino echoed those sentiments.
After the ministers refused to meet, Motz said he tried to set up a meeting between Lich and Bergen, which Lich’s legal team rejected because “the resolution would only be beneficial if it included the government.”
Ottawa police, with the help of police forces from across Canada, cleared protesters from the capital in a massive operation that began on February 18.
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