Former Ontario MPP Randy Hillier faces nine charges from participating in last year's Freedom Convoy demonstration in Ottawa. Now, he fears a 'tainted jury' could determine his fate at his trial later this year.
David Anber, Hillier's defence lawyer, has filed a motion for a venue change that will be heard later this year. He said that if the trial is in Ottawa, there's no chance his client would get an "unpolluted jury."
"Of course, we are asking to change the venue. We had the mayor, the prime minister, and others in high positions demonizing the Freedom Convoy in various media across the City of Ottawa — often invoking facts that later turned out to be debunked," Anber told the Toronto Sun.
"There's a class action suit naming large chunks of the city as so-called victims of the convoy. How can we pick an unbiased jury from this community after that?" he asked.
Hillier applied to the Ontario Superior Court, seeking to have public health orders issued under the Reopening Ontario Act declared contrary to the charter. The court is scheduled to hear oral submissions in that case from July 27 to July 28, 2023.
The Ontario government declared a state of emergency in April 2021, placing the entire province under a stay-at-home order for four weeks due to a surge in COVID cases. The order banned public gatherings with minimal exceptions, which the Justice Centre said had "effectively criminalized public protests."
As a vocal opponent of lockdowns and stay-at-home Orders during his tenure as MPP, the Justice Centre said that that is why their client received an invitation to speak at the protest.
Hillier is alleged to have breached a public health order under the Reopening Ontario Act when he supposedly participated in a protest in Barrie, Ontario while serving as MPP for Lanark-Frontenac-Kingston.
But a court stayed a charge against Hillier regarding a May 2021 protest he supposedly attended.
Concerning the Freedom Convoy protests, Hillier faces many charges, including accusations that he encouraged people to flood non-emergency lines during the demonstrations. He claimed, "in a democracy, expressing yourself is a fundamental freedom."
The Crown logged 274 malicious calls to the Ottawa Police Service non-emergency line in under a week following a series of Tweets from the defendant.
Hillier also faces an assault charge from marching alongside PPC leader Maxime Bernier, which he categorically denies committing.
According to the Crown, he allegedly ignored an officer's directions as the protesters converged on Parliament Hill and "threw" a metal gate out of the way. He supposedly shouted, "Let's go!" and used his body to push the officer while demonstrators forced their way through the barricade.
On March 28, 2022, Hillier told reporters that local law enforcement called him a day earlier to turn himself in for participating in the Freedom Convoy.
"We're going to fight them vigorously," said Anber, whose client claims he faces prosecution for holding "dissenting views" as a "freedom fighter."
"I only ever greeted people … with love and affection and embrace and handshakes. So unless handshakes or warm embraces are now considered assault, I have no idea," claimed Hillier.
The former MPP posted bail at $25,000 and is currently under the supervision of his court-approved surety and wife, Jane Hillier.
Hillier’s bail comes with several conditions, including not posting on social media about the Freedom Convoy protests, COVID mask or vaccine mandates, or the "anti-vaccine cause."
He also faces two counts of mischief, two of counselling to commit mischief, one of counselling someone to commit an indictable offence, three counts of resisting or obstructing and one of assaulting a public or peace officer.
However, the former MPP has yet to be convicted on any charges, which, if proven, carry potential fines of $100,000 and up to one year in prison.
Hillier previously faced other charges for participating in a June 2021 rally allegedly contravening Ontario's public health orders. But, a court dropped those charges last September as the prosecutor agreed it didn't serve the public interest to proceed with the case as the government had lifted those restrictions.