Judicial Harassment of Activists Continues

Sep 18, 2010

Judicial Harassment of Activists Continues

The re-arrest of Alex Hundert yesterday on flimsy charges is part of a pattern of police harassment against activists and community organizers which has gone on continuously since the G20 in June.  S.K. Hussan of No One Is Illegal, under severe house arrest conditions for G20 related charges, said, "I think this criminalization, the bail conditions, the character assassination, are just a continuation of the ongoing violence the police carries out - particularly on poor people, particularly on migrants, particularly on people of colour."  People without financial resources or middle-class sureties, are also facing a biased court system and are being denied bail and held for unreasonably lengths of time.

Farshad Azadian, a youth leader with the Esplanade Community Group, was arrested on July 23rd after observing police harassment of community youth. He was accused of obstructing justice although he was standing over 10 meters from the police. This follows on the detention of several members of the community group, including Azadian, during the G20 itself.   Several members of the group where imprisoned in the Eastern avenue detention centre after being kettled for hours by riot police outside the Novotel hotel, in their own neighborhood.

“The police have gotten a lot more aggressive and even more willing to break their own laws in the post-g20 period," said Azadian, "and I think that has to do with an "ok" that was given to them to smash skulls and arrest people randomly, and pen them up without rights. I think that has had a psychological impact on the police force. But, having said that, I could have gotten arrested at any time for observing police and ensuring that youth’s rights don't get violated, and many have. I've been threatened with arrest numerous times, and other youth in my crew have been thrown into the back of cop cars for filming on the cell phone. So my arrest is definitely a question of the police's natural role in keeping the lower working class down, and psychologically intimidated. Me standing up to them was reason enough (in that case) to get me arrested, and regardless of the G20, it may have happened eventually. But the G20 I think made that kind of police behavior more likely to occur.”

One of the more recent arrests is Juan-Pablo Lepore, an Argentinean documentary filmmaker, who was arrested during 'random questioning' in Montreal on September 2nd. He is currently at Toronto West jail, and his friends are scrambling to put together a bail package acceptable to the courts. Nicolas Van Caloen, who was working on a documentary with Juan Pablo, said in a press release, “The criminalization of Juan Pablo Lepore is proof that the waves of arrests following the G20 aim to discourage political engagement by people angered by our system's injustices.” He noted in that case that people without significant financial resources are being held without bail. “The fact that accused have to pay a really large amount of money and have wealthy sureties to get conditional liberation is clearly showing that poor people are discriminated by the Canadian justice system,” said Van Caloen.  Indigenous activist Ryan Rainville, of the Sackimay Nation, has also been denied bail, possibly because his friends cannot post the huge bails ($80,000) that have been put up for people facing similar charges.

Gary McCullough, who was arrested for driving near the G20 security zone with most of his possessions in his car, remains imprisoned since that weekend, probably because his elderly parents are unable to be sureties for his bail.  McCullough has a history of mental illness, and his lawyer told the Toronto Star, “I don’t see any basis for a determination that he is a danger to the public. I really believe that it’s a prejudice against the mentally ill.”

Another issue has been the demonization of protesters in a trial-by-media. Sensationalized press releases from the Toronto police are given heavy coverage in mainstream outlets, but the accused cannot defend themselves without risking damage to their legal cases.  For example, the police released photos of Kelly Pflug-Back, along with descriptions of her as a wanted ‘ringleader’ even though they were well aware of her location. Despite widespread media coverage of police accusations against activists, indigenous solidarity activists Alex Humbert and Leah Henderson were warned that speaking to the press at all was a violation of their bail conditions. Chelsea Flook, a Toronto-based activist, said, “These after-arrests arrests, putting out warrants to the media even when they already know where the person is, to me, it is the continuation of the police strategy of criminalizing dissent, using public humiliation and a police-friendly media.”

However, the police have now been caught in several out-and-out misstatements S.K. Hussan said, “The OPP, the Toronto Police, the RCMP, they're just flailing, they don’t know what to do so they keep doing these absurd things. They 'lost' Dave Vasey’s charge sheets. The OPP is randomly threatening sureties. The whole Officer Bubble debacle [where a police officer was caught on video threatening to charge a bubble-blower with assault if one of her bubbles touched him]. They arrested someone for going into her own office. This is some pink panther-esque routine where all these cops go from one blundering mistake to another.”

The dropping of all charges against journalist Lacy MacAuley and activist Natalie Grey shows many of the charges rely on flimsy evidence. Indeed, in the case of MacAuley and Grey video evidence clearly shows them being assaulted by police and not the other way round, as was alleged.  Other police statements, such as that rubber bullets were not used, and that a 5-metre law had given police extraordinary powers, have been roundly proved false.

One Toronto activist, who declined to be named, said “This is a strategy, they are spreading out the arrests to increase fear and panic, it’s so typical – but it won’t work, it never works, it will only make us stronger."

Timeline of post-G20 police harassment of activists:

  • July 14th- Police release photos of  '10 most wanted' at press conference
  • July 21st- Eleven people arrested at OCAP rally
  • July 21st- Kelly Pflug-Back turns herself in after her photo is released to the media. Eventually released on $80,000 bail.
  • July 23rd- Esplanade Community Group youth leader Farshad Azadian arrested for 'obstruction' while standing 10 m away from police
  • July 30th- Alex Hundert and Leah Henderson told that speaking to the press is a violation of bail conditions
  • August 5th- Indigenous rights activist Ryan Rainville arrested. Unable to post sufficient bail, Ryan remains in jail, currently at Maplehurst.
  • August 6th- Police release more photos of g20 'most wanted'
  • August 23rd - 300 people appear in Toronto court on G20 related charges, over 100 charges dropped
  • Aug 26th- Community activist arrested after Hamilton Coalition Against the G20  event
  • Sept 2nd- Juan-Pablo Lepore, documentary film-maker and independent journalist, arrested on G20-related charges in Montreal.
  • Sept 3rd- indigenous solidarity activist Erik Lankin finally released from jail after 10 weeks in prison
  • Sept 11th- computer security expert Byron Sonne remains in jail since being arrested on June 22nd. Gary McCullough, arrested for driving near the G20 security zone with most of his possessions in his car, is also still in jail as does Juan-Pablo Lepore
  • Sept 17th- Alex Hundert is rearrested after giving a lecture in a classroom for breach of bail condition of non-participation in public demonstrations