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Fredericton Political Prisoner Freed

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August 23, 2003

Fredericton Political Prisoner Freed

A Fredericton activist imprisoned for 18 days in Montreal following a mass arrest during last month's World Trade Organization (WTO) protest was denied a "most basic right" by the municipal judge who oversaw bail hearings for 120 anti-WTO protesters, a Superior Court judge ruled last week. Municipal Court Judge Denis Laberge should not have denied Vaughn Barnett's motion to present evidence in his own defence during his July 29 bail hearing, Justice James Brunton ruled in the August 15 review of Barnett's hearing.

Protesters arrested during demonstrations in Montreal were effectively forced to give up the right to protest through strict bail conditions. photo: Quebec Indymedia
"It's the most basic of rights of anyone brought before the courts that they are allowed to make proof of their position," Brunton stated before the court, explaining that the Crown should have been required to present evidence to justify Barnett's further incarceration and that Barnett should have been provided space to present evidence in his own defence. In his ruling, Brunton erased most of Barnett's conditions and waived Barnett's $200 bail - not because the defendant vowed not to pay, but because the Crown's case against him was "weak". Barnett said he feels vindicated by Brunton's decision.

"I shouldn't have been in prison at all, but I chose to be so that I wouldn't have to sign bail conditions that would compromise my constitutional rights and put me in a position of cooperating with what I consider to be fundamentally unjust institutions," Barnett told The Dominion shortly after his release. "The bail conditions were arbitrarily imposed on me and I considered that to be an extension of the unlawful process that started with the false arrest of almost 200 people in the green zone at the WTO protest." Barnett points to the continual arrests of people like Jaggi Singh and Aaron Koleszar as an argument against activists signing away their rights for a conditional release.

"An activist could be falsely arrested at one demonstration, be subjected to several bail conditions limiting his or her ability to protest later, and if the person tries to attend another demonstration the police can haul him or her into court and use those bail conditions against that person, claiming that the conditions were breached," he said. "Eventually, the activist is caged within these restrictions simply by being persistent and exercising basic constitutional rights."

Barnett, a legal advocate and researcher with a law degree, represented himself in court with assistance from Montreal lawyer, Denis Poitras. His trial is set for October 21.

Barnett was held for 42 days in a Quebec prison following the Summit of the Americas protest in 2001 under similar circumstances. --DARON LETTS

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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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