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'Freedom Convoy' lawsuit expands to include more Ottawa residents, new defendants


A proposed class-action lawsuit over the 'Freedom Convoy' has expanded to include more potential downtown Ottawa plaintiffs and added more defendants.

In a decision Monday, an Ontario court judge rejected an attempt by Freedom Convoy organizers to quash an updated version of the lawsuit against them and will allow the potential class-action claim to proceed.

 “There is nothing fundamentally wrong with the plaintiffs seeking remedies against the defendants who were involved in one way or another with the activities of the ‘Freedom Convoy’ and their ‘occupation’ of downtown Ottawa,” wrote Justice Calum MacLeod of the Ontario Superior Court.

His ruling rejected a motion from lawyers for some convoy organizers to strike an amended statement of claim.

That amendment filed by lawyer Paul Champ expands the boundary of potential plaintiffs to include much of Ottawa’s Lowertown neighbourhood.

The so-called "occupation zone" also includes the Rideau Centre shopping mall, which shut down during the protest, putting many employees temporarily out of work. Champ said the new boundaries now include 15,000 residents as potential plaintiffs.

The lawsuit against the organizers of the protest that occupied the city for three weeks in January and February 2022 seeks at least $290 million in damages. The lawsuit alleges residents were harmed by constant horn honking and diesel fumes, and that businesses and their workers lost income during the three-week protest in January and February last year.

"We feel pretty strong about this claim," Champ told CTV News. "It's based on some pretty sound principles in law that you can't unduly interfere with an individual's enjoyment of the peace and quiet of their home."

None of the claims in the lawsuit has been proved in court and none of the defendants has filed a statement of defence yet. The new boundaries now extend as far south as Somerset Street, west to Booth Street, north to Boteler Street and east to Friel Street.

The new boundary for plaintiffs in the potential class-action lawsuit on behalf of Ottawa residents and businesses against the 'Freedom Convoy' organizers. (Courtesy Paul Champ)Downtown Ottawa resident Zexi Li is the lead plaintiff in the lawsuit. Happy Goat Coffee Company, restaurant Union 613, and restaurant worker Geoffrey Devaney are also named as plaintiffs, representing the businesses and employees affected by the occupation.

Monday's ruling also allows the plaintiffs to file the amended claim that adds to the list of defendants a “donor class” of those who gave through GiveSendGo, GoFundMe or other means. 

The new defendants include New Brunswick businessman Brad Howland, who donated $75,000 to the convoy protesters, and Harold Jonker, whose trucking company had at least 10 rigs parked in Ottawa, according to court documents.

Champ said those two defendants are being named as representative class defendants, to represent the truckers who parked rigs downtown and the donors to the protest.

"The vast majority of the truckers who clogged the streets of Ottawa for three weeks and were honking their horns day and night have really escaped any type of consequences up until now," Champ said.

"The way we're leading this case, anyone who was a trucker who parked in downtown Ottawa, as well as anyone who donated a significant amount of money to the protest after Feb. 4, can be liable jointly and separately for the entire amount of damages."

The class action has not yet been certified by a court, but if it is, anyone who gave money to the convoy could be potentially liable, while plaintiffs in the occupation zone could benefit.

Champ plans to seek certification of the plaintiff classes and the defendant classes later this year.

More than $5 million in convoy donations has been frozen by court order and placed in escrow pending the outcome of the litigation.

Late last year, two organizers named in the lawsuit tried to win access to $200,000 of the frozen funds to pay for their defence, but their request was denied by the court.

Champ said he feels badly for some of the people who participated in the protests, saying they were "a bit misguided" and didn't get good advice about what was appropriate conduct.

"They just held to this idea that if they were protesting, then anything they did was acceptable," he said. "With this judgment today, I think all of them should seriously go and speak to an independent lawyer about what their exposure might be and what the best way to respond might be."

MacLeod did strike out some language in the statement of claim, including the assertion that the protest in January and February last year made Ottawa “a living hell”, a statement the judge said was “not a material fact capable of proof.”

- with files from Graham Richardson, CTV News Top Stories

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