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Freedom Convoy: Lawsuit expands to include more Ottawa residents

A proposed class action lawsuit against the Freedom Rally has expanded to include more potential plaintiffs in downtown Ottawa and added more defendants.

An Ontario court judge on Monday rejected an attempt by Freedom Rally organizers to throw out an updated version of the lawsuit against them and will allow a potential class-action lawsuit to proceed.

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

His ruling rejected a motion by lawyers to file an amended lawsuit by some of the organizers of the processions.

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

The so-called “occupation zone” also includes the Rideau Center mall, which was closed during the protest, temporarily putting many employees out of work. Champ said the new boundaries now include 15,000 residents as potential claimants.

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

“We feel pretty strongly about this claim,” Champ told CTV News. “It’s based on some pretty solid principles of law that you can’t unreasonably interfere with an individual’s enjoyment of the peace and quiet of their home.”

None of the claims presented in the lawsuit have been proven in court, and none of the defendants have yet filed a statement of defense. The new boundaries now extend to Somerset Street South, Booth Street West, Boteler Street North and Friel Street East.

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

Monday’s ruling also allows the plaintiffs to file an amended complaint that adds to the list of defendants a “class of donors” who gave through GiveSendGo, GoFundMe or other means.

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

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

“The vast majority of truckers who have jammed the streets of Ottawa for three weeks and honked their horns day and night have really escaped any consequences so far,” Champ said.

“The way we’re handling this case, anyone who was a truck that parked in downtown Ottawa, as well as anyone who donated a significant amount of money to the protest after February 4th, could be held jointly and severally liable for the full amount.” . about damages”.

The class action has yet to be approved by a court, but if it is, anyone who gave money to the convoy could be held liable, while plaintiffs in the occupation zone could benefit.

Champ plans to certify the plaintiff classes and the defendant classes later this year.

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

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

Champ said he resented some of the people who took part in the protests, saying they were “a bit disoriented” and not well-advised about what was appropriate behavior.

“They just stuck to the idea that if they are protesting, then what they are doing is acceptable,” he said. “With this judgment today, I think they should all seriously go and talk to independent counsel about what their exposure might be and the best way to respond.”

McLeod made some statements in the statement of claim, including the claim that the protests in January and February of last year made Ottawa a “living hell,” which the judge said was “not a material fact to prove.”

– With files from Graham Richardson, CTV News

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