WTO protester remains in jail

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“The state definitely seems to be trying to deter usfrom what we have a right to do and what we should bedoing as citizens of a democratic society,” Vaughn Barnett says, from a Montreal jail.

Vaughn Barnett, a soft-spoken resident of Fredericton, N.B. is one of Canada's latest political prisoners. He was among 236 people arrested during the World Trade Organization mini-ministerial in Montreal last week. He remains in jail.

Charged with “unlawful assembly,” Barnett refuses to sign a conditional release that would limit his rightsof free expression and assembly, insisting that allcharges and compromises to his constitutional freedomsbe dropped.

“The state definitely seems to be trying to deter usfrom what we have a right to do and what we should bedoing as citizens of a democratic society,” he toldrabble during an interview from Bordeaux mediumsecurity prison this week. “I've decided to refuse thebail so as not to legitimize or cooperate with thisunjust, unlawful process.”

What Barnett describes as an “illegitimate process and subversion of democracy” began on the morning of July 28, when an overwhelming force of Montreal riot policesurrounded, detained then arrested over 150 peoplegathered in the “green zone,” an area publicized by protest organizers as a safe space for theatre, art and music.

The mass arrest began well over an hour after themorning protest dispersed and took place many blocksfrom the police barricades that circled the WTOmeetings. The crowd had been gathering, with priorconsent, on private property. Police moved the crowdfrom the vacant lot into the street where the massarrest took place.

“All of a sudden the police moved in wearing riot gear and holding up their shields,” said Barnett,adding that he and others were pushed by police. “They herded us into a tight group that kept getting tighteras people were taken away.”

People identified as medics, journalists and legalobservers — as well as a doctor, a construction workerand several tourists — were among those handcuffed and packed into police vans. This mass sweep netted about75 per cent of the total arrests during the WTOmeetings.

“The police certainly did not find us engaging in any criminal activity at the time because we weren't evenprotesting let alone protesting in any unlawful way,”Barnett said.

The Crown's disclosure of evidence obtained prior toBarnett's July 30 bail hearing makes no reference toBarnett himself and provides no suggestion that heparticipated in any illegal activity.

By justifying the mass arrest at the time with thecharge of “participating in a riot,” an indictableoffense, and subsequently downgrading to a lessercharge of “unlawful assembly” once people had been detained, police betrayed their true strategy, Barnettsaid.

“What they're trying to do is link these lawfulactivities on the part of citizens with unlawfulactivities by a very few people who may or may not beon our side,” he said, making reference to a handfulof people who broke windows during the protest. “Theyare using that unlawful activity as a pretext to roundup hundreds of people to make it so that they willthink twice about exercising their basic rights nexttime around.”

Barnett said he will soon be consulting Montreallawyer, Denis Poitras, as he prepares to file a HabeasCorpus application.

“A Habeas Corpus application, essentially, is a reviewof the bail hearing where the lawyer will ask superiorcourt to quash the decision of the bail court andgrant my release on the basis that the decision wasmade without proper jurisdiction,” Barnett said.“It is a civil libertarian remedy so that anyone whois imprisoned unlawfully can go before the court andask to be released.”

In a similar act of defiance, Barnett remained in aQuebec prison for 42 days following the Summit of theAmericas protest in 2001.

Back home in Fredericton, Barnett works as a legalresearcher and advocate for people who cannot afford alawyer. His trial is set for October 21, 2003. He plansto represent himself in court.

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