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Convoy organizers try to quash $300M lawsuit

convoy organizers try to quash 300m lawsuit

The people facing a $300 million class-action lawsuit for organizing the 2022 convoy protests in Ottawa are attempting to have the case quashed altogether, or moved out of Canada’s capital.

Lawyers representing convoy organizers Tamara Lich, Chris Barber and 10 other parties are preparing to argue the lawsuit should be dismissed because the legal action against them unduly limits their freedom of expression in a matter of public interest.

The lawyer representing Pat King, another convoy organizer, in the proceedings is intending on supporting the motion to have the case tossed. 

Known as an anti-Slapp motion, the matter is expected to be debated during a court hearing in October.

“What happened in Ottawa was a matter of expression, we had a lot of people who were obviously very upset with what was going on in 2022 and they were taking to the streets expressing themselves,” said James Manson, the lawyer representing Lich, Barber and the others. 

“The lawsuit that was launched against my clients and everybody else does relate to expression, and it does relate to a matter of public interest of course, it was the COVID vaccine mandates and all of the government response to COVID,” he said. 

Another motion will be argued after that: Lawyers representing other defendants, most of whom were heavily involved in managing and collecting donations during the convoy, say the court case should be moved out of Ottawa. 

It’s not yet clear if they will support the other defendants’ effort to have the matter thrown out altogether. 

The U.S.-based GiveSendGo, an online platform used to collect more than $12 million during the protests, its founder Jacob Wells and others who managed donations argue a fair trial can’t be had in Ottawa. 

Their argument focuses on whether the number of Ottawa residents who may be included in the lawsuit or be potential witnesses in it is too many to hold a fair trial in the capital city. 

They intend on proposing the matter should be moved to Toronto and heard by a Superior Court of Justice there.

Paul Champ, the lawyer behind the proposed class-action suit, said he doubted either of the motions would be successful.

“The defendants, for whatever reasons, still don’t seem to be taking it seriously,” he said. “They’re trying to do everything they can to slow it down.”

Manson denies this being the case. 

“There is a huge backlog in our court system and I would never do anything to increase that backlog — I am not interested in creating delay for the sake of creating delay,” he said, adding his duty to his clients is to ensure justice is done and if his motion is successful, the case would likely be tossed. 

The manoeuvres by the defendants delayed the process of the court deciding whether the class-action lawsuit will be certified and move forward.

Champ successfully defeated a proposed motion from the defendants earlier this year to have the matter dismissed altogether. 

He said the named plaintiffs on the lawsuit, including downtown Ottawa resident Zexi Li and Happy Goat Coffee Co., continue to push the case forward. 

In March, Champ added new defendants and expanded the geographic border to include more plaintiffs. 

Around 15,000 people are estimated to now be included in the action against the group facing the lawsuit. 

“We continue to be very committed to getting proper accountability for what happened here in Ottawa and as much as possible getting compensation for the people of Ottawa for all they suffered during the three weeks,” he said.

Most of the $25 million raised during the convoy protests was either returned to donors or put into an escrow account that is being managed until the civil proceedings determine where the money should go. 

Approximately $18 million was refunded to donors. Most of the $6.3 million sitting in escrow came from online fundraising led by Lich or cryptocurrency donations. 

The Public Order Emergency Commission, the public inquiry tasked with looking into the federal government’s use of the Emergencies Act during the protests, found only about $1 million was spent by convoy organizers. 

Criminal trials to come

Lich and Barber are scheduled for trial in September on criminal charges related to the protests that gridlocked downtown Ottawa for several weeks during the winter of 2022. 

The pair are co-accused of mischief, obstructing police, and counselling others to commit mischief and intimidation.

King’s trial is scheduled for November and he is charged with mischief, counselling to commit mischief, counselling to disobey a court order and counselling to obstruct police. 

During his bail hearing he was charged with perjury and obstruction of justice and held in jail for five months before being released on bail. He’s also requesting his criminal trial be moved out of Ottawa, saying he feels an Ottawa judge and jury would be too biased to offer a fair hearing.

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