Convoy organizer Tamara Lich was bombarded with hugs and well wishes from supporters Monday as she walked out of the Ottawa courthouse free on bail after spending 18 days behind bars.
About 20 people carrying red and white signs that read “Free Tamara”‘ cheered, shouted her name and gathered around to embrace her.
Earlier in the day they broke out into a rendition of O Canada after the bail decision was read in court.
Lich, one of the principal organizers of the so-called “Freedom Convoy” protest that gridlocked downtown Ottawa for three weeks, was arrested Feb. 17 and charged with mischief and counselling to commit mischief.
She was initially denied bail, but that decision was reversed Monday after her lawyer asked for a bail review.
As a condition of her release, Lich was banned from social media and ordered to leave Ottawa within 24 hours and the province of Ontario within 72 hours.
She is also to have no involvement of any kind in COVID-19 or vaccine mandate protests, and avoid contact with at least 10 other convoy organizers.
Lich left the courthouse in a white pickup truck with Alberta plates and a small “Freedom Convoy” sticker on the tailgate.
Lich — described by a lawyer for convoy protesters in February as “the spark that lit this fire”– was one of the most public faces of the protest that saw crowds move in with big-rigs and other vehicles in late January to protest the federal Liberal government, vaccine mandates and COVID-19 restrictions.
Since her arrest, her supporters have called her a political prisoner during her time in jail, and over the weekend some rallied outside the Ottawa jail where she is being held to demand her release.
That push reached all the way to the United Kingdom Monday, where Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, in London for meetings with British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, was greeted outside 10 Downing Street by protesters spewing a chorus of expletives, and waving signs demanding that Lich be freed.
Lich was initially denied bail on Feb. 22 after Ontario Court Justice Julie Bourgeois deemed her detention was “necessary for the protection and safety of the public.”
In a bail review hearing last week, Lich’s lawyer argued that decision may have been tainted by the fact that Bourgeois ran as a federal Liberal candidates in the 2011 election and expressed that her own community had been affected by the protest.
On Monday, Superior Court Justice John M. Johnston found no merit to those arguments, and said the case was not about politics but the rule of law.
But he did find several other errors of law in that decision. He said the previous justice was too subjective when assessing the gravity of the offences, weighing them against the impacts to Ottawa’s residents rather than objectively comparing them to other offences in the Criminal Code. He also said that while Bourgeois determined Lich could serve a lengthy prison sentence of up to 10 years, he thought it very unlikely she would serve more than two years if convicted.
“I do not mean to suggest the circumstances of what occurred over three weeks in downtown Ottawa was not serious, because it was,” he said in court.
He also found that a new surety put forward by Lich’s attorney was reliable. The new surety, a family member whose identity is protected by a court-ordered publication ban, has been ordered to post a $20,000 bond. Lich must also post a bond of $5,000.
After Lich’s arrest in February, the surety posted a picture of Lich on social media with a Canada flag in the foreground, with the caption “so proud.”
The surety explained in court they were proud of Lich for standing up for her beliefs, but did not agree with breaking the law.
While Lich now makes her way home to Alberta, Ottawa’s interim police chief Steve Bell promised Monday to rebuild trust in the municipal force following the protest.
Ottawa police faced widespread criticism for failing to remove the protesters or enforce city bylaws, and allowing the streets of downtown to succumb to what many officials described as a state of lawlessness.
In the midst of the turmoil, Police Chief Peter Sloly resigned, the chair of the police oversight board was removed and several other members left in solidarity.
Bell said the service will continue internal investigations into inappropriate police conduct related to the illegal protests, and will develop a use-of-force review committee.
“We are and will remain an organization focused on cultural and systemic change,” he said in the statement.