Published:June 11, 2022
Months after the Freedom Convoy was cleared out from Ottawa’s streets, some of its leaders remain behind bars with no end in sight, and one expert says they’re likely serving more jail time awaiting trial than they will if convicted.
Pat King, one of the leaders of the convoy, remains in jail 113 days after being arrested for his role in the protest that occupied downtown Ottawa streets for more than a month.
King is co-accused with Tyson George Billings, who was arrested on similar charges on the weekend police cleared protesters.
Often seen at King’s side, Billings is known among supporters as “Freedom George” and gained notoriety during February’s protests for his booming chants of “Let’s go!” and “Freedom!”
Billings has been behind bars for 112 days.
The two continue to be denied bail.
Police never disclosed a full list of who was arrested and charged following the Freedom Convoy, but at least a handful of lesser-known people involved are still in jail.
According to a legal expert, King and Billings have likely already served more jail time awaiting trial than they will if convicted and sentenced.
“We are already reaching a period of prior detention that overpasses the possible punishment,” said Joao Velloso, a law professor at the University of Ottawa.
Others arrested during the protest, such as Tamara Lich and Chris Barber, are awaiting trial on bail. However, they are active on social media promoting adjacent movements, including election campaigns and future protests.
King ‘pretty beat down’ in jail
A pastor who tries visiting regularly with King in jail at the Ottawa-Carleton Detention Centre questions the length of time he has been incarcerated for.
“He’s pretty beat down,” says Melissa McKee, a pastor at Ottawa’s Capital City Bikers’ Church, which offered sanctuary space during its regular hours to protesters during the Freedom Convoy.
King continues to be frustrated by the justice system — he went through a series of lawyers before hiring his current representative, Natasha Calvinho, but continues to face charges for mischief, counselling to commit mischief, counselling to commit the offence of disobeying a court order, and counselling to obstruct police.
In the midst of an April bail review hearing, King was charged with obstructing justice and perjury.
All evidence presented at the bail review remains subject to a publication ban, which is often requested and granted to prevent potential jurors from being prejudiced ahead of trial.
Supporters question justice of detainment
Supporters regularly seek out the latest info on King, and many continue to view him as a motivating figure in the Freedom Convoy, and the ongoing movement it inspired.
McKee says regardless of what people may think of him, being in jail for this long is not just.
“I’m not measuring Pat against Tamara or Chris Barber, I’m measuring what he did, what did he do? He did Facebook live videos rallying people, he knew this was a possibility that he could be arrested, but  days?”
McKee says she regularly ministers to people in need of what she calls “heart care” or “spiritual care.”
“I’m literally doing the same thing with Pat King I would do for anybody who knocked on our door,” she said, adding God has put a call on her life to help broken people.
Earlier this month, after King had spent more than 100 days in jail, a group advocating on his behalf launched a letter-writing campaign asking people to send notes of support to him at the jail.
“After over 100 days in prison being mentally worn down, Pat King is being pressured to agree to a gag order to silence his voice upon release. Send letters of support to Pat King at the address below, encouraging him to Hold The Line!” wrote David Paisley, who runs the popular social media channel “Live from the Shed.”
Billings’s supporters continue to solicit funds for him through online fundraising — at the end of May, a post on his Facebook page, supposedly being run by his daughter, said Billings needs repairs done to his “Freedom truck” and suggests his release is coming soon.
“Any small amount helps. Thank you all for everything you have done and continue to do for Freedom George, he thanks everyone for the cards and the support you all have given him. He loves you all so much,” read part of that message.
Legal counsel for Billings did not respond to repeated requests for comment.
Most adults in jail awaiting trial, sentencing
Law expert Velloso notes about 80 per cent of the prison population is in a similar situation to King: waiting for trial on a case that will be decided within a month, or even a week, because people have already served any potential penalty that would eventually be given to them.
According to Statistics Canada, since 2004, the average number of adults awaiting trial or sentencing in provincial services is higher than the average number of adults sentenced to custody — in recent years, it’s about 70 per cent higher.
In Ontario and most provinces, more than half of the people in jail are waiting to be tried or sentenced.
“For King… he’s going to be in preventative detention for a while, and if you look into the overall trends of criminal punishment in Canada, he probably already served his time,” Velloso said.