by Justin Saunders and Megan Kinch -- Toronto Media Co-op
The legal prosecution of political activists continued on Monday as approximately 250 people appeared in court on G20-related charges. The courthouse at 2201 Finch Avenue was beyond capacity and began processing defendants outside the building amid a noticeable police presence and significantly increased court security. Several dozen people had charges withdrawn, 'diverted' or accepted an offer of a peace bond.
According to Vincent Paris, Lead Crown Attorney on the G20 prosecutions, a "number of offers are being made (to defence lawyers)." Paris gave a statement outside the courthouse but declined to comment on individual cases. Although diversion involves no on-the-record admission of guilt and cannot be used in future proceedings, as part of the process defendants typically 'accept responsibility' for actions in the form of a donation to charity or a court program involving education or community service.
Many people refused to participate in the diversion process and elected to have their day in court. Mac Scott, a legal worker with the Movement Defence Committee, noted that it is highly unusual for people to be offered diversion at this point in the court process. "Police actions during the G20 were heavy handed and largely illegal. Many people were arrested indiscriminately and without evidence in a large number of cases. This is why we are seeing withdrawals and diversions so early on."
Natalie Gray's arm and chest still bear marks from rubber bullet wounds. She is among several high profile G20 arrestees whose charges were dropped after evidence contradicting the police version of events was widely published. Gray's arrest made headlines after she was shot while attending a support rally outside the temporary detention centre on Eastern Avenue.
Police only admitted the use of rubber bullets against non-violent demonstrators when photo evidence emerged in the media. Gray is in the process of filing a lawsuit against the police. Also withdrawn were charges against Lacy MacAuley, an media activist and blogger from Washington DC; MacAuley was attacked by several officers, dragged into an unmarked van and assaulted, most of which was captured on camera. She was subsequently charged with assaulting a police officer.
MacAuley characterized the Crown's decision to drop her charges as part of a strategy to avoid embarrassment, and to isolate defendants who don't have clear video evidence exonerating them. "They want to sweep us under the carpet; they want us to go away...(but) we will not be silenced." Although MacAuley is glad that her charges were dropped, she said that she will continue to support others still before the courts. "This fight is not over, because so many of us are still facing charges." She is now considering her options for pursuing legal action against the police.
When asked if any officers would be charged for their actions during the G20, Paris replied that it was a "police matter". Paris said the decision to withdraw or divert charges was made "in the public interest", and defended police actions by stating that reasonable grounds for prosecution was not the same as reasonable grounds for arrest.
Matthew Melancon, who along with dozens of other Quebec residents were picked up at a mass arrest during a raid on a Student Union office at the University of Toronto, told The Star: "They spent billions of dollars on (security) and I wasn't there at the demonstration... yet they charged me with conspiracy for participating in a riot ...what was I supposed to be conspiring? I was sleeping at the university of Toronto ...and (was woken up by) dozens of cops with guns screaming at us." Most Quebec defendants have not had their charges dropped and will have to return Toronto in October for more court appearances.
Later in the day about 150 people gathered outside Police Headquarters in a rally organized by the Community Solidarity Network, a group which is fund-raising to support G20 detainees. Spokesperson Mohan Mishra contrasted the money that had been spent on security and prisons with the social austerity measures adopted by G20 nations at the Summit in June, taking particular aim at Steven Harper's conservative government.
"(Harper) is cutting wages and cutting jobs while at the same time spending over a billion dollars on security for the G20, spending a new 9 billion dollars on prisons and spending 16 billion dollars on new fighter planes. We fought this agenda during the G20 and we are going to continue to fight it. The people in court today are being prosecuted not because of any actual crimes but because of their opposition to the G20."
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