Conservative MP and leadership candidate Pierre Poilievre was asked at a recent campaign stop what he would do about the case of Tamara Lich, who is in jail for charges in relation to her role as a Freedom Convoy organizer.
Former Iranian political prisoner Salman Sima, who took refuge in Canada in 2011, posed the question to Poilievre and shared their interaction in a video on Twitter on July 20.
“I was a former political prisoner in Iran and it’s hard for me to see that Tamara Lich is behind [bars]. As the prime minister, what would you do that makes sure Canada doesn’t have any political prisoners?” Sima asked Poilievre on July 20.
“As a prime minister, I will not control who goes to prison, because I am not responsible for making arrests or making judgments—police and judges must make those decisions,” Poilievre answered.
I asked @PierrePoilievre about #TamaraLich & what he would do to make sure Canada does not have political prisoners. I said as a former political prisoner in Iran it’s hard for me to see her behind the bars. He replied: “As a prime minister I will not control who goes to prison.” pic.twitter.com/MMZE7JYrpq
— Salman Sima (@SalmanSima) July 21, 2022
Poilievre also said it would be a “disaster” if Canada becomes a country where politicians have the power to “choose who goes to jail.”
“I’m not going to tell you … what kind of sentence anyone is going to get, because it’s not the role of a prime minister—that’s the job of police, to lay charges, for Crown attorneys to prosecute charges, for defensive lawyers to defend against the charge, and for judges and juries to deliver verdicts and sentences,” he said.
Lich’s fellow convoy organizer Tom Marazzo reacted to the video on Twitter on July 20, saying Poilievre’s statement was “absolutely right.”
Another convoy organizer, Benjamin Dichter, took a different view, saying the “correct answer” should be, “The mere idea of political prisoners in Canada prior to #JustinTrudeau would have been impossible to fathom. I’m following the situation & I promise you under my leadership Canada will never hold any citizen as a political prisoner.”
People’s Party of Canada Leader Maxime Bernier also reacted to Sima’s video on Twitter, saying that Poilievre’s response “ignored the political context” of what happened to Lich.
“Trudeau demonized the Convoy. He illegally invoked the Emergency Act and froze bank accounts. He’s weaponized the police and justice system. This needs to be reversed to ensure we don’t have more political prisoners like Tamara in Canada,” Bernier wrote on July 22.
Lich was a key organizer of the truckers’ Freedom Convoy protest held in downtown Ottawa for more than three weeks starting in late January this year. The protest initially opposed the federal government’s mandatory COVID-19 vaccine mandate imposed on all cross-border truck drivers but quickly evolved into a national movement calling for an end to all other pandemic restrictions.
Protests in solidarity with the convoy also sprang up at several border Canada-U.S. border crossings at the time.
The protests dissolved after the Liberal government invoked the Emergencies Act on Feb. 14 to give the police additional powers to clear the demonstration in an escalated operation over the next few days.
Lich was arrested on Feb. 17, and was initially denied bail on Feb. 22 but the decision was later overturned.
After having spent 19 days in custody, she was released on bail on March 7 under a number of conditions, including having no contact with fellow convoy organizers and not setting foot in Ontario.
Crown prosecution, however, sought to return Lich to jail in May, alleging that she had breached her bail conditions by accepting an invitation from the Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms to receive the 2022 George Jonas Freedom Award at a ceremony in Toronto in June. That allegation was struck down after an Ontario Superior Court Justice ruled on May 25 that Lich didn’t breach her bail terms.
However, just days after attending the award ceremony in Toronto, Lich was rearrested in her hometown of Medicine Hat, Alberta, on June 27, under a Canada-wide warrant, and was transferred back to Ottawa to attend a bail hearing.
After a series of delays to her court hearings, the Crown revealed on July 5 that Lich was arrested for interacting with fellow convoy organizer Tom Marazzo at the June 16 event in Toronto, which the Crown alleged breached her bail terms of no contact. As evidence, the Crown presented a photograph of Lich and Marazzo at the event and a video recording that allegedly shows Lich sitting at a table where Marazzo and others are seated.
During that hearing, the defence said a brief congratulatory exchange between Lich and Marazzo after Lich accepted her award wouldn’t lead to any illegal activity and isn’t a breach of bail conditions. The court also heard testimony that lawyers were present at the event, and had approved the picture being taken of Lich and Marazzo.
The defence noted that Lich’s bail conditions specify that there’s to be no communication between convoy organizers except in the presence of counsel.
On July 8, Lich was denied bail and was ordered to remain in jail to await trial, after Justice of the Peace Paul Harris said he was siding with the Crown, saying that it was “absolutely ridiculous” for her to believe she could justify interacting with Marazzo by having her lawyers in the room.
Harris also said that Lich poses a risk to public safety, as some Freedom Convoy protests continue to be held in Ottawa from time to time.
A bail review for Lich will be held on July 25.