Vaughn Barnett was one of 150 protesters rounded up ina mass arrest on July 28 during protests against theWorld Trade Organization mini-ministerial in Montreal.Almost three weeks later, on August 15, Barnett wasthe only protester still in jail after refusing tosign a conditional release to regain his freedom.“I would as soon sign a conditional release as buyback something that was stolen from me,” he told thecourt during the review of his bail hearing thatresulted in his release with minimal conditions.

Barnett was held for 42 days following the Summit ofthe Americas in Quebec City after refusing to sign aconditional release under similar circumstances. Bothhis arrests have court dates pending.

A legal researcher and advocate for people who can’tafford a lawyer in his home town of Fredericton, Barnettrepresented himself in court.

Denis Poitras, a Montreal lawyer representing more than 100 of those arrested in Montreal last month, saysthat the precedent set by Barnett will open thedoor for others to contest the long list of bailconditions imposed by the state following the massarrest in the green zone.

On the night of his release, Burnett was interviewed on Boulevard St. Laurent in Montreal &#0151 on thespot where he was arrested almost three weeks earlier.

Daron Letts: You have lived 60 days of your life inprison fighting against bail conditions that wouldhave secured your immediate release. Why?

Vaughn Barnett: These conditions set up an insidiousprocess &#0151 a slippery slope. The continual arrest ofJaggi Singh, Aaron Koleszar and others like themdemonstrates that quite well. An activist could befalsely arrested at one demonstration, be subjected toseveral bail conditions, limiting his or her abilityto protest later, then if the person tries to attendanother protest the police can haul him or her backinto court and use those bail conditions against thatperson, claiming that the conditions were breached.

Further restrictions canthen be imposed and, eventually, the activist is cagedwithin these restrictions simply by being persistentand exercising constitutional rights. It seems to bequite obvious that what the police and the people inthe judicial system want is for each arrestee to gethauled off to court and accept bail conditions,possibly accept a plea bargain, and come out the otherend more disempowered to exercise their civilliberties at subsequent demonstrations.

Letts: What advice would you offer to activists facingbail conditions after being swept up in anindiscriminant mass arrest?

Barnett: Well, respect for diversity of tactics meansallowing us all to try our different approaches.There’s an ongoing learning and experimentalprocess for each of us, but I’d liketo see people acting in greater solidarity when itcomes to these mass arrests. When a group of us getshauled into court, if we all insisted on our fulllegal rights and full evidentiary bail hearings thenthat would be putting quite a strain on the legalsystem. We can’t make these mass arrests convenientfor the state. If they don’t likehaving the system clogged they can reconsider thispolicy of mass arrests. I think this would have thesame impact as if people were to sabotage capitalistor military operations, for example, yet it would beperfectly lawful. In fact, it would be taking the lawto its radical extreme.

Letts: Radically legal? How do you reconcile thisparadox?

Barnett: The concept of radicalism itself means goingto the roots of a system and, legally, it means goingto basic constitutional principles or principles ofjustice and the common good that the law is based on.Even if a situation calls for direct action or civildisobedience that doesn’t mean that there’s no legaljustification for those tactics. In fact, thosetactics, to be justified, would presuppose seriouslawlessness on the part of the state that we would bewithin our lawful rights to oppose.

So, I don’t seeany inconsistency between lawfulness and civildisobedience. I think that this actually leads togreater radicalism and empowerment of the peoplebecause when you can do something as radical as directaction or civil disobedience, and yet have a legaljustification for it, then you’ve got legitimacy onyour side opposing the illegitimacy on the other side.

Letts: Is it realisticfor people without legal training to confront thesystem as you’ve done?

Barnett: I’m finding more and more that lay people canlearn quite a bit about the law. I’ve met peopleworking with legal collectives who have learned somevaluable skills and have even offered their servicesto people like me. The thing about the law is it canbe used to oppress or empower and one of the main waysit’s used to oppress is through mystification, causingpeople to think that the law is so incomprehensiblethat it has to be entrusted to lawyers as an elitegroup. But, the basic principles of the law asenshrined in the constitution and our charter ofrights are quite easy to understand because they arebasic moral principles.

Ifa person were to read the criminal code and theCharter of Rights they would know a lot about thisarea of the law and be quite empowered.