[Hpn] Toronto Police War On Homeless Activists fw
Tue, 21 Nov 2000 23:26:06 -0800 (PST)
Subject: [smygo] When Police Wage War Against Activists
From: "Clore Daniel C" <email@example.com>
News for Anarchists & Activists:
Crackdown: When police wage war against activists
Wednesday, November 15, 2000
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
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
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 MÈnard 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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