The young public official who rose to prominence when she agreed to become the lead plaintiff in a proposed multimillion-dollar class-action lawsuit 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 day 17 of the trial of Lich and Barber, who are accused of mischief, advising others to commit mischief, intimidation and obstructing police for their role. in the weeks-long protest in January and February 2022.
Li testified that she was working from her downtown home during the COVID-19 pandemic, even as protesters descended on Ottawa.
Overshadowed by court security, she said from the witness stand that it was “almost impossible” to survive during the protest and “difficult to live as a human being,” and described the horns as “constant.”
He said the horns were “most commonly sounded” between 7am and 11pm and there were sometimes occasional honks during the night. He also described a “very loud” noise 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 that they were 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 raising funds.
‘Intimidated’ by protesters, says Li
After a successful injunction against the horns was granted, Li said the horns continued to sound even though they were less common, along with some “programmed” horns as the noise “pervaded my existence,” he testified.
“The horns were heard so frequently that even when they were not [happening]”I can expect this to happen any other time.”
Li, wearing a white silk V-neck T-shirt and matching baggy dress pants, said that during the next few weeks of protests there would be “scheduled” honking.
“The sound was less sporadic and more like it was all happening, closer to the same moment, rather than more dispersed,” he said, adding that other instances of “collective honking” also occurred.
During cross-examination, Li told Lich’s attorney, Lawrence Greenspon, that he heard honking specifically on Feb. 7 and then again on Feb. 17 and 18.
He said he could not speak to the duration or specific dates on which he heard honking horns, an air raid siren, bullhorns, a mobile horn or fireworks.
The court order granted on their behalf sought only to stop the honking for an initial 10-day period, allowing for peaceful, legal and safe protests as long as the court order was not violated.
The court order was extended beyond the original 10-day period after the original order expired, with the same terms in place.
Li described feeling “intimidated” by an encounter with a truck driver who shook his fist and honked his horn, and described protesters setting up structures to become more entrenched as the Freedom Convoy progressed, including a “makeshift soup kitchen.”
By the third week, after the injunction against honking was granted, she said protesters became “hostile” when she was taking photographs. She described calling the police after a truck hit her.
Under cross-examination, she said the truck didn’t make contact with her “only because I moved out of the way.”
He said he believed police filed a report but no further action was taken as a result of the incident.
Li also described that vehicles in the convoy were slowing down ambulances that had been responding to a call and that roads were “completely blocked,” but he did not remember the details.
He also said he couldn’t take the bus because the routes were relocated and the smell of gasoline from stopped vehicles in the city center was “almost inescapable at times.”
At one point during his testimony, he was warned to stop using the word “occupation” because the trial uses “protest” or “demonstration” to describe the convoy events, while “occupation” has a different legal definition.
Barber’s attorney, Diane Magas, objected to the continued use of the term, saying the word was “irritating” and “inflammatory.” Judge Heather McVey-Perkins told the court that the language could affect the credibility of Li’s testimony.