Public Order highlights: Tuesday, November 1

The Commission had a busy day of testimony from Chris Barber, Steeve Charland and Brigitte Belton. 

Mr. Barber testified that he is the owner of a trucking business and had a large TikTok following. He was one of the original organizers of the convoy protesters. He became involved in the convoy through "angry social media posts" about mandates that he believed went too far. The mandates affected him due to the losses in truck drivers he was witnessing. He estimated these losses to be 35-40% of the total workforce due to federal mandates. The federal government required truck drivers to be vaccinated in order to freely cross the U.S./Canada border as of January 15, 2022. However, many drivers would not or could not comply. His business suffered due to the inability of drivers to freely cross the border. He was barred from entering restaurants or public washrooms and eventually received the vaccination to save his business. 

Mr. Barber's goal was to have the government listen to his concerns. Prior to the onset of the pandemic, he was not politically active or a member of a political party.

He understood the goal of the convoy was to end COVID-19 mandates. He learned later that some other organizations had different goals. During the convoy, he was unaware of the views of the MOU which suggested an undemocratic change of power. 

Mr. Barber originally came to know Tamara Lich when she called him and requested his assistance. He described her as a good-hearted, strong person. He did not expect the level of participation the convoy experienced and stated that sometimes the trucking line was 25 km long.

Prior to the arrival of the convoy, he understood that he would be escorted by police to a park where the truckers could park safely. When he arrived in Ottawa, he was surprised to see many other vehicles parked on Wellington. He suspected that the convoy drivers "caught the police off-guard" or "overwhelmed them." Mr. Barber believed that the Ottawa police did the best they could. He said it would have been better if trucks had staging areas where they could have parked since they would be off the main streets. It was never part of the plan to park on the main streets, in his view. 

He had discussions with Pat King about prior social media posts mentioning "bullets" reported in a CBC article, though he did not read the article. He and other road captains spoke to Pat King about it: Mr. King claimed it was taken out of context and edited. There was some concern about the trucks Pat King brought.

In one of his own TikTok videos around the week of January 23, 2022, he stated that the convoy was peaceful, rules and a code of conduct were established, and that police officers were to be obeyed. He claimed that the public was on the side of the truckers but added that the protest had to remain peaceful.

He tried to ensure that emergency lanes remained open. He also made attempts to prevent disruptive or disrespectful behaviour. He did not see this sort of behaviour from his group. Regarding media portrayal, he said this was negative from day one.

Mr. Barber said he did not encounter episodes of hatred, harassment, racist yelling. He said the fires were used primarily for warmth. When asked whether horn honking was peaceful protesting, he said it was an expression of joy. However, it bothered him and he recognized that it was annoying.

He had his bank account frozen on the day he was arrested: February 17, 2022. Both his personal and business accounts were suspended. His TD account was frozen for 3.5 months, and he was forced to use cash exclusively. He was walking with his son and road captains when he was arrested. He noted that his son was scared. He has never been in trouble legally before, but now he is facing criminal charges. He said that he believed that everything he was doing was within the confines of the law. 

Mr. Barber agreed that he entered into negotiations with city manager Kim Ayotte and Steve Kanellakos at city hall to discuss moving trucks out of the residential areas. He agreed that these negotiations were somewhat successful.

He stated that he asked truckers not to honk during designated 'quiet hours' (between 8:00 pm and 8:00 am), pursuant to a deal negotiated with the city.

He testified that he was not involved with the protests in Windsor or Coutts. His convoy did not pass through Windsor. None of his trucks were dispatched to Windsor. When he said, "let us hit them where it hurts," he clarified that he meant his trucks exclusively attending a protest in Ottawa.

Mr. Barber said if he was given a court order requiring him and the truckers to leave, he would have left. He also said if the riot act had been invoked, he would have instructed people to leave. He testified that convoy lawyers described the rhetoric of the MOU and Canada Unity as "legal nonsense." Regarding his knowledge of Tamara Lich, Mr. Barber testified that she never said she would overthrow the government. She did not assault anyone, and "she would not hurt a butterfly." There was no collusion with other convoy protesters around the country. He claimed, "we weren't smart enough to coordinate splitting police resources."

He said the mandates negatively affected his children and that his father had sustained a vaccine injury. Additionally, he recalled Trudeau saying, "we should not tolerate these people," and found it to be divisive and assaultive behaviour. 

Steeve Charland was the next witness to provide testimony. Mr. Charland was a convoy protest leader of the Quebec group "Farfadaas." He claimed that the organization assists with homelessness along with other charitable work. He was not concerned about truckers per se but was concerned about getting people back to work. He asked his group members to remain peaceful and anyone who did not obey was reprimanded. He said journalists misrepresented the views of the Farfadaas. He said Farfadaas distributed funds to needy people, helping families throughout the province. He stated that he respected the rules during the protests.

Mr. Charland confirmed that his bank account was frozen and that the National Bank restricted his banking privileges. It reduced the daily amount he could withdraw. He was later informed that his accounts would be closed. His bank provided no reason to him. He said that it was almost impossible to live without a bank account. Questioned by Commissioner Rouleau, he explained that he was given no reason for the closing of his bank account. He explained that Antifa was a group opposing Farfadaas that vandalized trucks, but he did not witness violence - he only received reports about it. 

He was charged with mischief and counselling to commit mischief. He spent 23 days in prison, 10 of which he spent in isolation. He did not previously have a criminal record. Mr. Charland described his release conditions which include communication restrictions with certain individuals. He witnessed Antifa committing acts of violence and heard about police violence. He described hearing about unidentified police committing violence against women and children. He said the representation of the relationship between the residents and Farfadaas in the media was inaccurate. He continued: "I can't believe that we are given a Charter to explain what we are allowed to do. You gave us charters. You gave us tools. Today in 2022, we have to stand up and neglect our jobs and families, to ask you to do your jobs again. To make sure the Charter is complied with."

Brigitte Belton was the final witness who testified on Day 14. She was an organizer and a truck driver. She was motivated to protest due to problems crossing the border with her truck and living under demeaning mandates. The Canadian government announced the January 15, 2022, cross-border mandate for truckers. Her husband told her that "convoys never work," to which she responded, "they never had a woman do it."

She reached out to another organizer, Chris Barber. She said they planned to "slow roll" and be a nuisance but not to block the border and to remain within our rights. During the drive to Ottawa, she said she was in contact with an OPP officer to ensure the protest was conducted safely. As the convoy drove into Ottawa, it was her understanding that the truckers drove as directed by OPS and OPP. Once they arrived in Ottawa, the police removed barriers, and the trucks rolled onto Wellington street. She reported witnessing "love, unity and happy people" on Wellington street. This was in contrast to the negative behaviour of people during the pandemic. She observed Albertans reconciling with Quebecers. She expressed the view that she was tortured for two years under overly restrictive mandates.

She was not arrested at any time, but her husband notified her that her bank accounts were frozen. RBC called her, stating that they had closed her account and told her to let them know when she had left Ottawa. She had to ask for money from strangers to cover gas bills and her departure from Ottawa.

She stated that the reason she was in Ottawa was to be heard. Prior to the protest, she sent 32 emails to MPs, which were ignored. She claimed that the government did a good job of scaring people, and its propaganda hurt our country. She said she "draws the line at bodily autonomy."

On cross-examination by the lawyer for Ottawa residents, Ms. Belton was asked if she had any sympathy for residents. She said she tried to control the horn honking. However, she said she endured a lack of sympathy for two years. When asked if she wore a mask, she indicated that she was on medication and a female victim of violence and thus could not wear a mask. 

It is important to recall that, in order to justify its declaration of a public order emergency under the Emergencies Act, the government must establish, on reasonable grounds, that a public order emergency exists and necessitates the taking of special, temporary measures for dealing with the emergency. The situation must be so dire that it cannot be effectively dealt with under any other law of Canada.

The definition of a public order emergency is an emergency that arises from threats to the security of Canada and that is so serious as to be a national emergency.

Threats to the security of Canada is defined, in the Canadian Security Intelligence Services Act as: (a) espionage or sabotage that is against Canada or is detrimental to the interests of Canada or activities directed toward or in support of such espionage or sabotage, (b) foreign influenced activities within or relating to Canada that are detrimental to the interests of Canada and are clandestine or deceptive or involve a threat to any person, (c) activities within or relating to Canada directed toward or in support of the threat or use of acts of serious violence against persons or property for the purpose of achieving a political, religious or ideological objective within Canada or a foreign state, and (d) activities directed toward undermining by covert unlawful acts, or directed toward or intended ultimately to lead to the destruction or overthrow by violence of, the constitutionally established system of government in Canada.

*All quotes are subject to revision as Commission video and transcripts become available.

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