Public Face of Canada Protests Is a Former Leader of a Secessionist Party

She is a former fitness instructor who has sung and played guitar in a band called “Blind Monday” in Medicine Hat, Alberta. She was a senior member of a splinter party that advocated for Canada’s Western provinces to secede from the country.

And now Tamara Lich, 47, has emerged as the public face and the most visible leader of the trucker convoy against pandemic restrictions that has roiled the nation’s capital, shaken the country and prompted Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to take the drastic step of declaring a national public order emergency.

Ms. Lich speaks publicly in measured tones, and has become adept at deploying social media — and her Twitter feed — to amplify the protesters’ grievances.

At a news conference in the Sheraton Ottawa Hotel on Monday, opened to media other than solely conservative-leaning news outlets for one of the first times, there was an air of gravitas in a room that echoed with the constant coughing of dozens of maskless supporters.

Wearing or not wearing a mask has become a potent political statement during the protests and some Ottawa residents have complained of being taunted by protesters.

“Some of you might oppose our grievances,” Ms. Lich said to the television cameras. Like other members of the movement, she does not wear a mask. “However, democratic society will always have non-trivial disagreements, and righteous dissidents,” she added.

What message discipline exists in the protest movement has come from Ms. Lich, said Jay Hill, the interim leader of the Maverick Party, a small right-of-center group based out of Calgary, Alberta, created to promote the separation of Canada’s three western Prairie Provinces from the rest of the country. Ms. Lich, who worked previously in the energy sector, has deep ties to the group.

Even before the convoy assembled, its messaging was Ms. Lich’s preoccupation, according to Mr. Hill, who said she called him several times even before arriving in Ottawa to strategize.

“We had a number of discussions about staying on message, about the need in this modern-day world of politics to have a very clearly defined message that is understandable and simple, a message that people can grasp hold of and run with,” he said. “Tamara clearly understands that.”

Ms. Lich played a leading role in organizing a GoFundMe campaign for the protests that raised $7.8 million before the crowdfunding site shut it down after receiving “police reports of violence and other unlawful activity,” GoFundMe said.

B.J. Dichter, an official spokesman for the convoy, said he joined the effort after Ms. Lich sought help managing the swell of donations flowing into a GoFundMe page. Mr. Dichter has a history of spouting anti-Islamist views and once said that “political Islam” is “rotting away at our society like syphilis.” He has rejected claims of racism.

Within the occupiers’ tightly managed ground operations, there are military hallmarks, outlined and executed by the several higher-ups who have backgrounds in the armed forces and law enforcement, according to leading members of the group.

Their organization includes oversight of each occupied street by a so-called road captain, with sections divided and overseen by block captains who operate below them.

Before becoming a prominent face of the protests, Ms. Lich was a personal trainer in Medicine Hat, a town once dubbed “Hell’s Basement” by Rudyard Kipling for its location on top of a huge natural gas field.

Zach Smithson, an employee at Body Building Depot Fitness Emporium, where Ms. Lich used to work, said she has become the talk of the town.

“I think we are all very proud of her,” he said.

Ms. Lich did not respond to a call and text message requesting an interview.

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