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G8/G20 Communique: 303 people head to court Monday

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It's been two months since the G20 Summit protests in Toronto from June 25-27, 2010, but that does not mean the effects of the G20 are over.

1,090 people were arrested/detained during the G20 weekend in Toronto, prompting numerous calls for an inquiry into the G20 police conduct.

While most of these individuals were detained -- many at the infamous Eastern Avenue Detention Centre thus earning Toronto the nickname "Torontonamo" -- and then released, 303 people were eventually charged with various G20-related offences. This number includes those who were arrested before, during and immediately after the G20 and those arrested later in relation to the occasional G20 Most Wanted lists that the Toronto Police G20 Investigative Team were releasing post-Summit.

On Monday August 23, 2010, the 303 G20 arrestees will be returning to the 2201 Finch Avenue court house as a first step in their eventual trials. No one will likely be pleading guilty or innocent on Monday, the court date is simply one in a chain of appearances to set a date for trial.

This also allows for defendants and their lawyers to be given disclosure regarding the charges they face. It should be noted, though, that occasionally defendants are offered a more lenient sentence in exchange for a guilty plea by the Crown during the first set date. There is also the possibility that charges may be dropped or reduced at this time.

This will be one of the largest mass court appearances the city has ever seen, according to Toronto police G20 investigator Det. Sgt. Gary Giroux.

"If you're out [of custody] you'll be appearing. If you're in, you're appearing physically, in custody or by video," he said.

Giroux said the cases will be spread over three courtrooms, but people close to the case say it is unclear whether the cases will be processed in an assembly-line fashion, or how long they might take.

Court staff are prepared for the hundreds of people expected to descend on the courthouse, but the sheer number set to appear presents some challenges, said Brendan Crawley, spokesman for the Ministry of the Attorney General.

"Arrangements have been made to make the process as efficient as possible for the accused, while maximizing access for the public and the media," he said in an email.

"We hope to maintain a smooth flow of people into and out of the courthouse, but given the number of accused scheduled to appear, it may take some time to deal with these matters."

"The court system is incredibly alienating," said 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."

Some of the 17 people co-accused on charges of conspiracy will be among those appearing August 23, 2010. 

The 247 Committee is providing support for the G20 arrestees and can be reached at [email protected].

To hear about upcoming meetings of the 247 Committee or the Toronto Community Solidarity Network and future events and organizing, please join a low-traffic announcement listserve at https://masses.tao.ca/lists/listinfo/community.mobilize.

Court support events for the G20 arrestees on Monday August 23, 2010, include a 10:00 a.m. press conference at the 2201 Finch Avenue court house and a 6:00 p.m. rally at Toronto Police headquarters (40 College Street). I will be covering the rally for rabble.ca on Twitter #krystalline_k 

Here is important information posted below from the Movement Defence Committee if you or someone you love will be attending court Monday.

Important disclaimer by the Movement Defence Committee. Disclaimer: the following is general information, NOT legal advice. For advice about your particular case or circumstances, please consult with a lawyer.

What's going to happen on August 23rd?

First and foremost, your first appearance is NOT a trial. It is only the first of what will be a few or many "set dates" aimed at setting a date for a trial (this can be a lengthy process!). It is also not an "arraignment" -- you will not have to plead guilty or innocent until trial.

So, what does happen? Set dates are an opportunity to have the Crown Attorney (the prosecutor) confirm the charges you are facing and how serious they are. Set dates are also an occasion to provide you with disclosure, which is all the relevant evidence that the Crown has in your case -- including evidence in your favour. Disclosure allows you to know the case against you and is a constitutional right. Sometimes, disclosure is provided during the first set date, but often you have to wait longer or the first disclosure package you are given isn't complete.

All this means that your first appearance won't be very long. You will be called by name and with the assistance of a lawyer (see below), the above issues will be dealt with and you will pick another date to come back to court. This next appearance will be another "set date" -- either to await disclosure or to give you a chance to apply for Legal Aid and/or show the disclosure to your lawyer and discuss your options and next steps.

Occasionally, defendants are offered a more lenient sentence in exchange for a guilty plea by the Crown during the first set date. You DO NOT have to make a decision on the spot and you should always consult a lawyer about any offers by the Crown. Simply write down the offer and ask to come back to court on another day.

Note that set date court usually runs from 9 a.m. -- 4 p.m., with lunch break from 1-2 p.m., but that August 23rd may run longer. Bring reading material and snacks (but remember that you will be searched upon entering the courthouse)! There is a duty to accommodate for disabilities and interpretation where required -- you may want to contact duty counsel and/or the Crown's office in advance.

Do I have to go to court in person?

We are anticipating that many people charged during the G20 will not have "retained" a lawyer before their first appearance (made an agreement for representation with a lawyer in exchange for payment (or a Legal Aid certificate) -- see below). You do not need your own lawyer for the first appearance, but if you are not represented by a lawyer, you MUST attend your first court appearance in person.

Duty Counsel lawyers (who are paid by Legal Aid and work at the [sic]) are available in all set date courts to assist unrepresented accused; you do not need to ask for their help in advance or have a legal aid certificate. Duty counsel can assist you at bail court, set dates and with guilty pleas, but they do not become "your" lawyer -- there is no on-going relationship.

If you have retained a lawyer or a lawyer has agreed to represent you pending retainer, whether you need to attend in person depends partly on the charge(s) you are facing, and you should speak to your lawyer about whether or not you need to attend court. Note that you cannot send anyone else on your behalf (e.g., a friend or relative).

The MDC is also working with volunteer lawyers to have additional defence lawyers and legal activists at the courthouse during the first G20 appearances to help ensure that everyone gets the assistance they need.

How can I apply for Legal Aid?

While you can apply for Legal Aid as soon as you charged, information about the seriousness of the charges you are facing is usually needed to get a decision. In practice, this means waiting until after your first appearance to apply because you will likely need the "charge screening form" which is attached to your disclosure and sets out all your charges and the Crown's position on sentencing. To be eligible, your charges have to be sufficiently serious, which generally means that you need to be facing the possibility of a jail sentence if convicted. There are financial criteria as well; these are listed on the automated phone line when you call Legal Aid.

Note that Legal Aid often dissuades people from applying before their first appearance, but you can do it. Going in person (to a legal aid office at any courthouse) is often better than trying to do it over the phone. You may still be told that your application cannot be completed until after a first appearance.

If you qualify, you will be issued a legal aid certificate which allows the lawyer of your choice to be paid by Legal Aid Ontario [LAO] for a certain amount of work on your case. The certificate can be sent directly to your lawyer, if already have one. If not, it will be sent to you and you'll need to locate a lawyer (see below). LAO may also offer you a contribution agreement where you pay part of the costs of the certificate back to legal aid. If you are denied legal aid, an appeal can be made in writing -- your refusal letter will have details.

More information is available at http://www.legalaid.on.ca/en/getting/type_criminal.asp or call 416 979 1446 or 1 800 668 8258. Legal Aid Ontario has stated that out of province Canadian residents can apply in Ontario but that defendants who live outside of Canada are not eligible to apply.

When will my trial be?

A number of factors make it hard to predict how long you will have to wait for a trial: availability of disclosure, the complexity of a case, police officer availability and simply how busy the courts are. Waiting one to two years is not unusual. However, a trial within a reasonable time is a constitutional right and a very long delay can result in the charges being withdrawn.

Note that your lawyer will likely have to have a "pre-trial" before a final trial is set. This is a meeting with your lawyer and the Crown (and in the case of a "judicial pre-trial" a judge as well (a different judge than the one that will hear the trial)) to discuss disclosure issues, possible plea bargains, what the contentious issues will be at trial and how long the trial will be.

What are my bail conditions and (how) can I change them?

When you were arrested and later released you were probably given a document called a "recognizance" or "promise to appear" -- these are your bail papers, even if the word "bail" is not used. Your bail includes release conditions. Some common ones are non-association with particular people (especially co-accused), not to be in particular areas at particular times, reside at particular residence, etc. Any conditions against you are attached to your criminal charges, so if the charges are dropped, you are acquitted or convicted and sentenced, the conditions no longer apply.

Breaching your bail conditions is a criminal offence. A criminal record for breach of bail (and/or failing to attend court) is taken very seriously by the court and will affect your ability to get bail down the road if you are ever arrested again. Note that all your bail conditions have to be read together, not in isolation from each other -- if you do not understand your conditions, they seem contradictory/inconsistent or you cannot follow them for good reasons (e.g., your job is in a location you cannot be in), you should speak to a lawyer as soon as possible.

If you need to change your bail conditions, the simpler method is a bail variation. This is a process involving negotiations between you (or your lawyer) and the Crown to change the terms of your bail conditions: you propose changes based on strong/compelling reasons, hopefully the Crown consents and you then present the changes in court to be finalized. Your surety/ies, if any, will need to attend court as well to sign the new bail papers. However, it can be difficult to get the Crown's consent. Doing a bail variation without a lawyer can also be tricky, but the Duty Counsel office should be able to assist.

If a bail variation is not possible or successful, you can bring a bail review: a court hearing appealing your original bail conditions. This is very difficult to do on your own because you need to order transcripts of your bail hearing (e.g., pay the court reporter to transcribe the recording of everything said during your bail hearing) and file with them the court, along with affidavits and a written argument.

How can I find and work with a lawyer?

Finding a criminal defence lawyer (and you do want someone who specializes in criminal law!) who you can trust and are comfortable with can take some time. Ask friends and relatives for a referral or ask the MDC's Summit Legal Support Project for our referral list.

If you don't get a legal aid certificate, you will have to discuss costs with your lawyer -- this arrangement is called a retainer. Some lawyers operate on a sliding scale based on your circumstances and in general fees can be negotiated and a payment plan worked out (e.g., instalments). If you can't come to an agreement with a lawyer, they should offer you other referrals. Unfortunately, hiring a lawyer is often very expensive, although fundraising for G20 defendants is already under way.

Defence lawyers' schedules make it difficult to return calls immediately but your lawyer should keep you informed along the way along about dates, options and next steps. Listen to your lawyer's advice, ask for clarifications and discuss any disagreements but remember that final decisions about your case are yours to make. The relationship between lawyers and clients is confidential -- what you tell them is privileged and cannot be disclosed to others.

How can I get support?

The MDC continues to work with activist and community organizations to help defendants self-organize, support each other, fundraise and share resources and knowledge. The 247 Committee was recently formed out of the Toronto Community Mobilization Network to organize a network for people facing criminal charges (subject to non-association conditions) and to offer logistical help. The 247 committee can help you with trauma support, property retrieval, and assist out of towners with places to stay and rides to the courthouse for set dates.

They can also help you access the legal defence fund once its distribution polices and procedures are finalized. Finally, if you are interested in representing yourself in court, the committee and the MDC may try and set up a workshop with activists who have done so and can talk about possible political and legal strategies.

Let the committee know about what you need, or how you want to get involved: [email protected].

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