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G20 Over, but Legal Woes Drag On

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August 13, 2010

G20 Over, but Legal Woes Drag On

Three hundred to appear in court, G20 organizers face police threats as arrests continue

by Tim McSorley, Megan Kinch

While police lines have disappeared from the streets of Toronto, those arrested are still facing judicial barriers. Photo: Andy K. Bond

TORONTO and MONTREAL—Nearly two months after the G20 protests in the streets of Toronto, hundreds of people are slowly moving through the legal system. They face a wide range of charges, from obstruction to conspiracy, and a variety of possible punishments, from fines to serious jail time.

The complexities of the justice system can be difficult at the best of times, but with mass arrests and what many see as politically motivated charges, things have become more daunting.

“The court system is incredibly alienating,” says Ryan White, a lawyer working with the Movement Defense Committee (MDC). “That's why [the courts] are used, to use up time and energy to destroy social movements.”

While it’s difficult to predict the outcome for people facing charges, an estimated 300 people – mainly those who were arrested and held at the detention centre set up in a former film studio in Toronto’s east end – are slated for “set date” court appearances on August 23.

A set date is the first step in the trial, where the accused will be able to clarify their exact charges, will be given their next court dates, and will possibly receive disclosure – meaning they will be permitted to see the evidence being held against them.

Since the set date hearings are not arraignments, defendants will not plead innocent or guilty, but resolution discussions – otherwise known as plea deals – may take place. A spokesperson for the Crown's office refused to comment on the possibility of such negotiations, though Riali Johannesson, another lawyer who volunteers with the MDC, says such discussions are common-place.

Those who remember the temporary bail court hearings immediately after the G20 summits may doubt the wisdom of processing 300 defendants in one day, but both Crown prosecutors and MDC volunteers believe there should be enough resources and staffing for the process to move smoothly. According to Johannesson, legal defence volunteers are in contact with the Crown to find ways to ease the process and ensure hearings do not drag on.

That is reassuring for the dozens of people who will come in from out of town for the hearings, including 110 people from Quebec alone. Montreal’s Anti-capitalist Convergence (CLAC), which organised buses to Toronto for the G20 summit, is organising transport and lodging for those who need to travel to Ontario for their hearings. Other out-of-town defendants, including most from BC, have secured legal counsel to represent them so they do not need to make the 4,000km trek.

There is a possibility that some charges will be dropped on August 23, and that others may be downgraded following resolution discussions. No one will be obliged to take plea deals and groups like CLAC have expressed hope that enough funds will be raised to enable individuals who wish to challenge their charges to do so.

Fundraising takes time though, and in both Montreal and Toronto, where the two main pushes for fundraising are taking place, it is estimated that at least $250,000 needs to be raised in each city in order to cover the legal fees associated with those facing the most serious charges. Farrah Miranda, a spokesperson with the Toronto Community Mobilisation Network (TCMN) was unable to confirm how much money has been raised so far. The TCMN and CLAC are both planning a series of large events over the coming weeks, though, including a performance by trip-hop band LAL in Toronto, and a fundraising dinner and art auction in Montreal as part of what will be year-long funding drives.

Some of the seventeen people co-accused on charges of conspiracy will be among those appearing August 23. All but one of them have been released on bail and face severe restrictions, including house arrests and limits on who they can associate with, on public statements, organizing or participating in protests, using laptops, cell phones and other wireless devices. Kitchener-based community organizer Eric Lankin however, has been in custody for over six weeks.

The courts have issued a publication ban against reports on the proceedings, and some have been warned that speaking to the media may constitute a violation of the bail conditions, which would leave the sureties financially liable. The sureties for Leah Henderson and Alex Hundert were contacted recently by the Ontario Provincial Police (OPP), who told them comments to the media made by Henderson and Hundert could be interpreted as a breach of their 'no advising or planning political protest' condition, according to Hundert’s brother Jonah. Such a breach would allow the police to put them back in jail.

“It's absolutely absurd and the principle behind it is disgusting,” he says, adding that if there are concerns about breach of bail conditions the proper route is to contact legal representation. “[The OPP] are basically
harassing my family, just as they try to intimidate all people who speak and stand for social justice.”

Many have been critical of the bail conditions, seeing them as particularly repressive. “The coercive bail conditions force those released into a false choice: to stop organising or to face further repression,” says SK Hussan, who, like Henderson and Hundert, has been accused of conspiracy, among other charges. “We are not simply choosing to fight for a better world; it is our responsibility to do so,” he added.

Ongoing arrests continue to evoke the spectre of the G20 mass detentions. No one knows when they will end, and Toronto police have not said they are through with arrests. In mid-July the Toronto Police Service (TPS) released a “most wanted” list of G20 protesters. Since then, the TPS have arrested several of those listed, most recently Ryan Rainville, an Indigenous solidarity activist, who was arrested in Waterloo, Ontario.

“It's clear that the police will extend [the wave of arrests] as long as they can,” says White. But he is optimistic that fighting in the courts could lead to a kind of victory for the defendants. “There are so many stories out there of people who had their rights trampled by the state who have had success in the courts. It's exciting to think about it proactively. It's one way of holding the state accountable.”

Hussan, for his part, is insistent that the focus not be on the ongoing legal battle he and others face, but on building towards a just world: “What’s become increasingly important is not just how are we going to deal with state violence, but how are we going to create the autonomous, just, free communities we all want to live in?”

For more information about what defendants can expect on August 23 and information on legal defense, visit http://movementdefence.org. For more information on legal defense fundraising efforts and news, visit http://g20.torontomobilize.org/ and http://www.clac2010.net/.

Tim McSorley is an editor with The Dominion. Megan Kinch is an activist and journalist in Toronto.

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The Dominion is a monthly paper published by an incipient network of independent journalists in Canada. It aims to provide accurate, critical coverage that is accountable to its readers and the subjects it tackles. Taking its name from Canada's official status as both a colony and a colonial force, the Dominion examines politics, culture and daily life with a view to understanding the exercise of power.

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