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2 of 4 men accused of conspiring to murder RCMP during Coutts protest plead guilty to lesser charges

People gathered on June 12, 2023, to show support outside the Lethbridge Courthouse on the first day of pretrial for four men charged with conspiring to murder RCMP officers during the Coutts blockade. On Tuesday, Jerry Morin pleaded guilty to conspiracy to traffic firearms, and Christopher Lysak pleaded guilty to possession of a weapon in an unauthorized place. (Ose Irete/CBC - image credit)

Two of the four men accused of conspiring to murder RCMP officers during the border blockade and protests at Coutts, Alta., will be released from custody today after pleading guilty to lesser charges.

On Tuesday, Jerry Morin pleaded guilty to conspiracy to traffic firearms, and Christopher Lysak pleaded guilty to possession of a loaded restricted firearm (handgun) in an unauthorized place. The sentence for both men equals the time they've spent behind bars since their arrest nearly two years ago.

Morin and Lysak were among four men initially charged in February 2022.

In a statement to CBC News, Lysak's lawyer Daniel Song said Lysak maintains his innocence regarding the charges he faced, but pleaded to possessing "his licensed and registered handgun in a place that was not authorized."

"The offence was not on the indictment. At the conclusion of sentencing, all charges in the indictment were withdrawn against Mr. Lysak. To be clear, Mr. Lysak did not admit to possessing his handgun for a dangerous purpose. He did not attend the Coutts protests with the intent to harm anyone," Song said.

"He admits that his firearm was loaded with ammunition at the time of police seizure, but denies having loaded and chambered the gun."

Song said Lysak will be released today and return home.

"He looks forward to rebuilding and moving on with his life with his family," he said.

From left to right: Chris Carbert, Anthony Olienick, Jerry Morin, and Christopher Lysak, are each accused of conspiring to murder RCMP officers near Coutts, Alta., during the border blockade and protests.
From left to right: Chris Carbert, Anthony Olienick, Jerry Morin, and Christopher Lysak, are each accused of conspiring to murder RCMP officers near Coutts, Alta., during the border blockade and protests.

From left to right: Chris Carbert, Anthony Olienick, Jerry Morin and Christopher Lysak were each accused of conspiring to murder RCMP officers near Coutts, Alta., during the 2022 border blockade and protests. (Carbert/Facebook, Coutts Convoy Restart/Facebook, Morin/Facebook, Instagram)

In a separate statement to CBC News, Morin's lawyer Greg Dunn said his client had maintained from the beginning that he had "no part of any alleged conspiracy to murder police officers and is relieved and grateful that those charges, and associated allegations, have been withdrawn by the Crown."

"Moreover, the charge that Mr. Morin pled guilty to does not suggest that Mr. Morin at any time took firearms into Coutts, only that he agreed to," Dunn wrote.

"It is unfortunate that Mr. Morin has spent two years of his life in custody awaiting this day. That being said, now that this day is upon him, he looks forward to seeing his family and moving on with his life."

Lysak forgot he had handgun: statement of facts

According to an agreed statement of facts between the Crown and defence, Lysak packed a suitcase after learning of the convoy at Coutts. He took his Remington rifle and ammunition bag so he could hunt coyotes if he found himself idle and bored.

At the time, the RCMP were involved in an investigation into the closure of the border. The police believed that a group of men they called the "security group" was responsible for the presence of firearms at the blockade, according to the agreed statement.

"On or about February 10 or 11, 2022, Mr. Lysak emptied out his ammunition bag to use the bag for laundry and discovered that his Sig Sauer semi-automatic handgun was inside the bag," the document reads.

"Mr. Lysak had forgotten he had quickly placed the handgun in the bag when his daughters knocked on his bedroom door at home in Lethbridge before he left for Coutts. Mr. Lysak panicked and placed the handgun under a pillow in the trailer."

Police executed search warrants on Feb. 13 and 14, including at a trailer where Lysak was residing. During the search, police found a cache of firearms and ammunition, including Lysak's handgun, the statement reads.

At the time the police located the handgun, it was loaded and there was a round in the chamber. Lysak was arrested outside of the main location where the protesters had been gathering and was not with his gun at the time of the search warrant, according to the document.

Morin's conversations disclosed by wiretap: statement

According to the agreed statement of facts, Morin attended the Coutts blockade on a number of occasions between Feb. 9 and 14.

According to the document, Morin agreed to deliver "firearms, ammunition and other equipment" to others at the protest. Coded language was used in those conversations, which were disclosed by an RCMP wiretap.

The night of Feb. 13, the undercover officers observed Morin arrive by truck at a field near the main site of the Coutts blockade, which was located past the RCMP checkpoint at Milk River, according to the agreed statement of facts.

A three-week trial was intended to start in June 2023 before Court of King's Bench Justice David Labrenz, but lawyers for the accused asked the judge for an adjournment and a change of venue from Lethbridge to another city.

A number of pretrial applications have been heard in recent months. A trial for the other two men charged, Chris Carbert and Anthony Olienick, is now set to begin later this year.

The Alberta Crown Prosecution Service said it would not comment on matters before the court.