Before Alex Hundert uttered a word on Monday, organizer Yogi Acharya made it clear that the press conference was a private event for media only and asked any member of the public to leave the room.
That’s because Hundert’s bail conditions still prevent him from speaking at “public events” and anything perceived as such could land him back in jail.
After spending nearly three months at the Toronto West Detention Centre without trial, Hundert was released on January 24. Since his initial arrest in June prior to the G20 Summit, Acharya said Hundert has been the “subject of continuous harassment by the police and the Crown.”
Hundert has been arrested three times on G20 related charges that Acharya called “ludicrous” and have been widely condemned by numerous organizations including the Canadian Civil Liberties Association.
Following his initial G20 conspiracy and counseling charges, Hundert was charged with two counts of breaching bail because he allegedly violated his condition not to participate in public demonstrations when he spoke on a university panel at Ryerson University.
“Our position was and still is that a panel discussion on a university campus is not a public demonstration,” said Hundert at Monday’s press conference. “Academic discourse cannot be classified in such a way so that as the police and Crown attorneys can have free reign to target people for their participation.”
In the end, Hundert pleaded guilty to breaching his bail because a single presentation, out of close to a dozen on one of two nights, may have qualified (according to the Crown) as a public demonstration because it used props and multiple speakers.
But charges related to the panel he participated in at Wilfrid Laurier University were dropped.
Hundert told reporters that he agreed to plead guilty because “the Crown uses the court system to keep people in jail until the plea.” After nearly 150 days in jail since his initial arrest, Hundert felt it made more sense to get out of a cell and back into the community where he can contribute, work and do all kinds of organizing as long as he steers clear of public demonstrations.
“And social justice organizing is a lot deeper than just organizing flashy protests and things like that,” he added.
Hundert expressed how moved he was by the support he received from various organizations and individuals while in jail and how that also impacted his decision to take the plea. “That support made it really easy to recognize the value of rejoining the community rather than sitting as some symbol for freedom of speech in jail,” he said.
Hundert then explained how the breach charge fits into the bigger picture of how the G20 security, policing and prosecutions were handled.
“It’s all been about the criminalization of dissent,” said Hundert, “and the state and the police and the Crown cracking down on the people who resist and organize.”
Hundert believes that the authorities weren’t just targeting those opposed to the G20 Summit but against people, organizations and communities resisting the G20 austerity agenda. That means, he said, the most effective organizers have been neutralized for the next two years fighting charges or supporting their colleagues who’ve been charged.
“The same weapons used against us are used every single day against specific communities across the country,” he said. “And it is that collusion between the so-called justice system and the police that is one of the big pieces of effectively targeting communities. And the prison system is used as a weapon against communities that might or would resist.”
The Toronto Star reported Monday that a preliminary hearing for the main G20 charges against Hundert and the other G20 defendants won’t begin until September 12. The judge will decide if there’s enough evidence to send the case to trial, which probably wouldn’t start until the fall of 2012 or the beginning of 2013.
In the meantime, Hundert is out on bail but without the previous house arrest conditions. Now he can leave his home with designates, post to the internet and can travel within Ontario accompanied by a designate.
“So Alex, what are you asking exactly from the police and the Crown,” asked one reporter.
“One of the obvious things to demand is to have all the G20 charges dropped. While that would be really nice for me and my co-accused, that doesn’t really give anything back to all of the people in the city who experienced the police brutality that day. And it doesn’t do anything to address the systemic problems.”
Hundert is surprised that there aren’t widespread calls to disarm the police. “I don’t think that they’re responsible enough to be walking targeted neighbourhoods armed.”
“Some sort of investigation or the government intervening?”
“What I hope is that people who recognize how little justice there is in the system will start organizing in their own communities so we can have our own spaces where real justice is possible.”
“You mentioned they shouldn’t be armed but it looks like they’re keeping four of the sound cannons, most of the CCTV cameras and some of the other equipment that they got. What’s your reaction to that?”
“I don’t think it’s a coincidence that the police are becoming better armed and better equipped at the same time that social services and education and healthcare are being cut from the city. They are expecting people to be angry about those things and preparing themselves to deal with it the same way they did this past June.”