Freedom Convoy made it ‘near impossible’ to live, Zexi Li tells trial | CBC News


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.

Li testified she was working from her downtown home during the COVID-19 pandemic, including when protesters came to Ottawa.

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. 

Three people walk past a sign for a provincial courthouse.
Diane Magas, left, lawyer for Chris Barber, middle, walks with Tamara Lich’s lawyer Lawrence Greenspon to the Ottawa Courthouse last month. (Justin Tang/The Canadian Press)

‘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 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.”

Hundreds of "Freedom Convoy" supporters march in downtown Ottawa on Canada Day July 1, 2022 in Ottawa.
Hundreds of ‘Freedom Convoy’ supporters march in downtown Ottawa on Canada Day last year. (Dave Chan/AFP/Getty Images)

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.

Li also described vehicles slowing down ambulances responding to a call and roads that were “completely blocked off.”

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 asked 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.


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