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Judge stays charges against ‘Fight Fees 2’

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In March 2008, Oriel Varga and Chris Ramsaroop participated in a ‘sit in’ with over fourty other students in Simcoe Hall at the University of Toronto to protest hikes to student fees. A month later, they were charged with five counts of forcible confinement, one count of forcible detainer and one count of mischief.

On Thursday, all charges against Varga and Ramsaroop were stayed.

Twelve of the original "Fight Fees 14" also had their charges withdrawn or stayed, or have signed peace bonds limiting their right to protest on campus. But Varga and Ramsaroop, both of whom are community advocates at U of T and former University governors, refused to sign away their Charter Rights in order to have the charges and Code of Student Conduct investigations withdrawn.

“The total delay in this case from the date of arrest 25 April 2008, until the proposed trial date of 28 September 2009, is over seventeen months, well beyond the constitutionally permitted standard for a case of this kind and with these facts,” said Ontario Court Justice Paul H. Reinhardt in his judgment released on Thursday.

Justice Reinhardt concluded that “in addition to the prejudice that can be inferred from the length of the delay, the applicants have incurred actual prejudice from the delay.”

“Ramsaroop testified before me that he has suffered prejudice arising from the delay in the areas of his employment, his family life, his organizing work as part of the Justice for Migrant Workers group (“J4MW”) and in his activities on campus, including his work for the Association of Part-time Undergraduate Students (“APUS”), and at Parkdale Community Legal Services (“PCLS”).”

Ramsaroop received a Bachelor of Arts with Honours from University of Toronto in 2004 and a Masters in Education for the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education (“OISE”) in June of 2008.

He has a distinguished resume of community involvement over the last fifteen years, including volunteer work for UNICEF, the Allan Gardens Project, the Asian Canadian Labour Alliance, and the Metro Network for Social Justice, and the Justice for Migrant Workers Collective (“J4MW”) and since 2005 has served as a community organizer for the Association for Part-time Undergraduate Students (“APUS”).

“Similarly, Oriel Varga testified before me that she has suffered prejudice because of the conduct of the investigation and the inordinate amount of time this matter has been before the courts. Ms. Varga testified that in January of 2008 she applied to become a candidate for the PhD program in Sociology at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education (“OISE”). Her application was turned down at the end of 2008, and she fears that her academic future has been prejudiced by these charges remaining before the court for so long.”

Currently the Executive Director of APUS, Varga has a Masters degree at the University of Toronto and has served on the Governing Council of the University of Toronto in 2004 and 2005. While on the Governing Council she also served on the Academic Board and the Academic Appeals Committee.

Varga testified that the bail cut her off from her previous close association with Ramsaroop, which was essential for her work as a liaison officer and later executive director of APUS.

“The Crown argues that there has been no actual prejudice to the applicants save that which they have imposed upon themselves. The implication is that “self-imposed” restraint from an accused cannot give rise to actual prejudice. With this assertion I must respectfully disagree.

“In my conclusions about “actual” prejudice under headings of “liberty” and “security of the person”, I consider self-restraint due to bail conditions and personal stress due to the effect of the delay on family members and ongoing community work valid factors to consider.

“In my view, the applicants’ ability to carry out their normal community work for APUS and other organizations was seriously undermined by the non-communication clauses, and even to attend classes was problematic, despite the qualifications in each release.”

Justice Reinhardt also noted in his judgment that Ramsaroop and Varga have no criminal record; served the University of Toronto as a member of the Board of Governors and each has made contributions to the academic and student life on campus, as well as in the larger community; had the talent to achieve advanced post-graduate degrees from the University; and suffered both implied and actual prejudice because of the long delay in bringing these matters to trial.

“This is a precedent-setting decision,” said Joeita Gupta, VP External Affairs APUS.

“It affirms our Charter Rights, making it clear that trumped-up charges can't be handed out to student leaders as a strategy to silence dissenting opinions and tie-up our advocates in lengthy and expensive legal battles. I hope this will be a strong statement to the University that such violations of academic freedom and our Charter Rights will not be tolerated on campus.”

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