Chris Carbert, Anthony Olienick trial begins: RCMP witness admits he had no contact with defendants

Carbert and Olienick are the two remaining defendants of a group of men dubbed the Coutts Four, which previously included Chris Lysak and Jerry Morin, who were also accused of conspiring to murder law enforcement officers.

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RCMP Sergeant Greg Tulloch, the Crown’s first witness, began testifying on Thursday, the first day of Chris Carbert’s and Anthony Olienick’s trial in Lethbridge, Alberta.

Both Carbert and Olienick are charged with conspiracy to commit murder, with the Crown alleging that the two conspired to murder police officers. They are also charged with unlawful possession of firearms for a purpose dangerous to the public peace and mischief causing damage over $5,000. Olienick is additionally charged with unlawful possession of an explosive device.

Carbert and Olienick are the two remaining defendants of a group of men dubbed the Coutts Four, which previously included Chris Lysak and Jerry Morin, who were also accused of conspiring to murder law enforcement officers. Lysak and Morin pleaded guilty to lesser crimes in March and were sentenced to time served in remand.

The charges against Carbert and Olienick stem from their participation in the 2022 Coutts blockade and protest, a peaceful and civilly disobedient demonstration broadly opposed to governmental edicts, orders, and mandates issued as "public health” measures, ostensibly to reduce COVID-19 transmission.

The two accused men plead not guilty to all charges against them.

Tulloch previously testified as a Crown witness in the Coutts Three trial, where Marco Van Huigenbos, George Janzen, and Alex Van Herk were convicted of mischief over $5,000. He worked as an RCMP liaison during the Coutts protest. In his testimony, he stated that he had no direct contact with either Carbert or Olienick.

The jury received its instructions from Justice David Labrenz, the judge overseeing the trial, on Thursday, given that it was the jury’s first day of trial proceedings.

Labrenz emphasized the jurors’ need to maintain a presumption of innocence on the part of the two defendants. The burden of proof, he explained, rests entirely on the prosecution’s shoulders.

“The defendants do not have to prove anything,” Labrenz stated. The prosecution, however, must prove guilt “beyond a reasonable doubt” in order for the jurors to convict the accused of any charges against them.

The judge also warned the jurors against the danger of "unconscious bias," alleging that persons can hold biases they are unaware of.

“We all experience unconscious biases," he said. He instructed the jury to "judge the evidence fairly, without bias, prejudice, sympathy, or partiality." Jurors have "a duty to set aside prejudices or biases," he emphasized.

Labrenz told the jury to consider both behavioural commissions and omissions on the parts of the defendants in evaluating the evidence presented during the trial. He said jurors must reflect on what the men did and did not do, and what the two accused said and did not say.

Demonstrators at the Coutts blockade and protest expressed concerns about "government overreach, where that overreach leads to,” Tulloch testified during cross-examination by Marilyn Burns, Olienick’s defence attorney. He said the demonstrators were worried about "our country turning into a country like China [and] devolving into fascism."

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