[Hpn] When Police Wage War Against Activists

chance martin streetsheet@sf-homeless-coalition.org
Thu, 16 Nov 2000 20:31:35 -0700


Crackdown: When Police Wage War Against Activists

by Naomi Klein
Published on Wednesday, November 15, 2000 in the Toronto Globe & Mail

On Oct 20, University of Toronto student Derek Laventure attended a
protest outside the Ontario Tory convention. He saw a police officer
drag away a fellow activist and he was heard to say, "That's not
right." Next, witnesses say, he was brutally assaulted by several
police officers, thrown against a barricade headfirst (his eye was so
bruised, it swelled shut), and arrested.

His crime? Allegedly carrying a weapon and using it to assault a
police officer. The "weapon" was a black flag.

On the night Mr. Laventure was arrested, Elan Ohayon, a U of T PhD
student, was sleeping in Toronto's Allan Gardens. He had camped there
every Friday for more than a year as part of a protest against
inadequate public housing and police harassment of homeless people.
The next morning, Mr. Ohayon woke up surrounded by police officers.
They arrested him and, he alleges, assaulted him. Like Mr. Laventure,
Mr. Ohayon was charged with assaulting police. He was told to sign
bail conditions that barred him from returning to Allan Gardens. He
refused. That meant abandoning the vigil to which he had committed
himself as an activist.

Last week, after spending 20 nights in jail, a judge struck down the
conditions placed on Mr. Ohayon's release. A few hours later, he was
once again camped out at Allan Gardens.

It isn't the first time in recent months that a judge has questioned
bail conditions that restrict the right to engage in political
protest. After an anti-poverty protest at Queen's Park turned violent
last June, several of the key organizers of the Ontario Coalition
Against Poverty were charged with inciting or participating in a riot.
Though they had not been convicted of any crime, their bail conditions
explicitly barred them from continuing to be part of OCAP: They
weren't allowed to communicate with anyone in the organization, to go
to any demonstrations, to go near Allan Gardens or to Queen's Park.

For OCAP organizer Stefen Pilipa, who had to leave the group and take
a job at a factory after his arrest, the net effect was that "we were
fired -- by legal means -- from the job that we do."

Only as it turns out, the police, in their efforts to hobble OCAP,
violated the protesters' rights. In September, a higher court
overturned most of the bail conditions on the grounds that they
restricted "peaceful and lawful protest."

In Montreal, two days after Mr. Ohayon's arrest, another activist was
facing allegations that participating in a protest is a criminal
offence. After the G20 summit in Montreal, Jaggi Singh was arrested
and held for 48 hours, though he did nothing more than hand out
leaflets and give a speech. In court, a police officer testified that
Mr. Singh's speech "incited a riot" (he was not charged with this
offence in the end).

What did Mr. Singh say? He asked some difficult questions about the
real cost of the economic policies pursued by the politicians at the
summit. What is violence, he asked -- a broken window at a
demonstration, or the violence of homelessness, social exclusion, and
police brutality?

What links the crackdowns on activism in Quebec and Ontario is that,
increasingly, people such as Mr. Singh and Mr. Ohayon are facing the
same kind of exclusion and criminalization they are agitating against:
In trying to fight the problem, they are getting a taste of it
firsthand. The fear that a protest might turn violent is being used to
justify staffing demos with more cops than protesters; photographing
activists; arresting leaders off the street; and demanding bail
conditions that make activism illegal. As well, says Bob Kellerman,
lawyer for several of the protesters, "when police use excessive
force, they have to justify it by accusing people of such things as
assaulting police."

The net effect is that some of the most effective organizers in the
country are spending precious time trying to keep themselves from
being convicted of crimes they should never have been charged with in
the first place.

Mr. Kellerman says minor charges such as trespass are routinely being
inflated to criminal charges, "to provide a legal basis for arrests
and restrictive bail conditions they would not otherwise be able to
justify. The police view each demonstration as trouble rather than as
a sign of a healthy democracy."

No wonder, then, that there is a widespread perception among activists
that police are waging a war against them. Two weeks ago, Quebec
Public Security Minister Serge Ménard gave a preview of his plans for
containing protests during the Summit of the Americas, to be held in
Quebec City in April. "If you want peace," he said, "prepare for war."


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