Jailed G20 defendant Alex Hundert will be starting trial on January 31, 2011 over allegations that his participation in University panel discussions in September this year contravened his bail condition to not participate in public demonstrations. Since the G20, Hundert has been forced to spend some 120 days in jail without going to trial for original charge of alleged “conspiracy” or any of the subsequent charges the Crown laid on him.
At the upcoming trial, the Crown will be arguing that speaking as an invited panelist at discussions at Wilfrid Laurier University on September 15, and at Ryerson University on September 17 (video for which is available at http://vimeo.com/15096905) constituted a public demonstration; a categorization also made by Justice of the Peace Inderpaul Chandhoke that Hundert and his lawyer will be challenging.
This conflation of public demonstrations and university panel discussions by the Crown and the JP has left University faculty across the province shocked and outraged. The Ontario Confederation of University Faculty Associations recently issued a statement in defence of Hundert saying, “Panel discussions are in no way public demonstrations, but are in fact a central part of the mission of our universities – promoting critical thought and developing knowledge. … This criminalization of legitimate dissent represents an assault on both Mr. Hundert’s freedom of expression and the freedom of our universities to foster debate and discussion on issues of public importance.”
Similarly, another strongly worded letter to the Attorney General of Ontario signed by 137 faculty members at York University stated, “We believe that Alex’s arrest for breach of bail conditions, and his subsequent bail conditions violate his Charter Rights, in particular, his freedom of association and assembly, and freedom of expression….We see it as part of a larger move to criminalize dissent and opposition to government policies.” The letter also went on to say, “Such arrests are having a chilling effect on discussions of such policies on university campuses and in the community.”
From jail, Hundert commented, “This fight which is about to enter a court of law is not just about the right to freedom of speech, it is about spaces where freedom is possible. The university is a space for ideas and campuses are a space where dissent is supposed to be protected. This fight is about defending those spaces.”
Added Rachel Avery, member of the organization AW@L and supporter of Hundert, “The crackdown during the G20, which involved hundreds of people being violently removed from the streets without charge, is a pattern that has continued beyond its most public moment in June. The recent report by the Ontario Ombudsman makes clear the collusion between police and multiple levels of government and thus their intention to stamp out dissent with presumed impunity.”
Originally arrested in a pre-emptive house raid on the morning of June 26, Hundert had been out on bail under draconian conditions that included a “no public demonstration” clause, a clause which the activist, and G20 defendant Jaggi Singh has mounted a constitutional challenge against. Hundert was re-arrested shortly after the speaking event at Ryerson University at his father’s house under the charge that he had breached his “no public demonstration” bail condition. Subsequently he was coerced into signing, and released under even more restrictive bail conditions, but was re-arrested a third time on Saturday, October 23. He has been in jail ever since.
Brant’s preliminary hearing begins
Jeremy Ashley The Intelligencer Local News – Monday, August 27, 2007 Updated @ 6:08:17 PM
NAPANEE â€” A preliminary inquiry into criminal charges against Shawn Brant began Monday with much less fanfare than his previous court appearances.
The 42-year-old Mohawk protester was brought from the Napanee Detention Centre for a court appearance that was markedly less theatrical than previous appearances in court here. There were, as in many previous appearances, no protesters outside, nor were there any supporters in the public gallery as Brant was quietly led handcuffed and shackled to the prisoner’s box shortly after 9:30 a.m. wearing a worn white T-shirt, camouflage pants and work boots.
By 11 a.m., however, there were about a dozen people who appeared to support Brant in the courtroom, but they were a subdued group.
What wasn’t different about Brant’s latest appearance was the heavy police presence at the County Memorial Building â€” there were a number of Ontario Provincial Police officers scattered throughout the Dundas Street West site and visitors were searched and scanned with metal detectors before being allowed into the courtroom.
Brant is facing nine criminal charges in connection with various protests over the past nine months â€” breaching conditions imposed after he was charged with uttering death treats at a Deseronto protest last November, leading a group of Mohawk protesters that obstructed the main CN Rail line in April and for his role in what police charge was co-ordinating the blockade for National Aboriginal Day of Action on June 29 that blocked a large section of County Road 2, two CN Rail line crossings and propmpted police to close part of Highway 401 between Belleville and Napanee.
His stated goal during the events was to increase awareness of aboriginal land claims, native poverty and conditions on reserves.
Brant, the only one of his group arrested for his part in those incidents, is charged with six counts of mischief exceeding $5,000, two counts of breaching his recognizance and one count of failing to obey a court order.
Three days have been set aside for the preliminary hearing, which is held to determine if there is enough evidence to warrant a trial.
The inquiry began shortly before 10 a.m., with presiding Justice Robert Fournier granting a request from Brant’s lawyer Peter Rosenthal asking if his client could sit at the defence table without restraints.
Brant, looking pale, remained composed throughout the day, often watching the proceedings intensely or taking notes.
With what he termed his second “housekeeping” matter, Rosenthal criticized security measures enacted by the OPP, particularly those from Brant’s last two bail hearings, which were held at the Superior Court of Justice courthouse on Thomas Street East in Napanee.
The Toronto-based lawyer questioned the “quite unusual security precautions” taken by police during the hearings, including asking visitors to sign a guest book and to be videotaped before entering the courtroom.
“Many people thought they were being investigated,” Rosenthal contended. “Many planned to attend (today), but didn’t.”
In dismissing the complaint, Fournier said security “is often complex” and “it’s not within my jurisdiction to police the police.”
Then, in what is contrary to normal practice for a defence lawyer, Rosenthal argued against the Crown’s motion of having a publication ban put in place during the inquiry.
Typically, the accused in a case asks for a ban on publicity during preliminary inquiries â€” a move the judge is required to grant if sought by the defence.
Crown attorney Robert Morrison said the Brant matter was an “emotional type of case” and a ban must be enacted in order to protect the integrity of jury selection, if the matter is to go to trial.
Rosenthal, meanwhile, said the Crown presented “all sorts of inflammatory evidence” during the two previous bail hearings, which didn’t have any bans on content.
“To argue for a publication ban now, given that, is a bit odd,” he said.
In handing down his decision to enact a ban, Fournier said any informationpresented during a bail review “has no consequence … I do have a responsibility to protect the integrity of this process.”
Security tight as inquiry opens; Mohawk activist Shawn Brant accused of mischief, breaching bail
Frank Armstrong Local news – Tuesday, August 28, 2007 @ 00:00
A preliminary inquiry for a Mohawk activist accused of mischief and breaching his bail conditions by leading two railway blockades and disrupting traffic on Highway 401 earlier this year began yesterday.
Shawn Brant, 43, faces nine criminal charges in relation to thedisruptions – one in April in the Napanee area and three in June in the Deseronto area.
Mohawks and their supporters ran a 30-hour blockade on the CN Rail tracks in Napanee on April 20 to protest the operation of a gravel quarry on land subject to negotiations between the Mohawks of the Bay of Quinte and the federal government.
They blocked the CN tracks again on June 28 and 29 as part of a national aboriginal day of action on June 29 to bring attention to problems faced in First Nations communities, such as poor water quality, poverty and high youth suicide rates. They blocked Highway 2 near Deseronto and forced police to close off a stretch of Highway 401.
Security was unusually tight at yesterday’s hearing in Napanee Court.
Spectators and witnesses entering the court had their bags searched and about six uniformed OPP officers guarded the stairs and waiting area outside the courtroom. The officers also made people turn out their pockets and swept a metal detector over each person.
Peter Rosenthal, Brant’s Toronto lawyer, pointed out that unlike his client’s last court appearance when more than 100 supporters attended a failed bail application, few of Brant’s supporters came to court for him yesterday.
Rosenthal said they were too intimidated to show up after the Aug. 10 hearing, when spectators were made to show photo ID and provide their date of birth and were videotaped doing so. He accused police of abusing their authority while conducting security.
“Security is acceptable in this day and age, but making people write down their names and numbers is not,” Rosenthal said outside the courthouse. “When they do things like that, make people write down their name, address and birthday and videotape them, they want to investigate supporters of Mr. Brant, not do security.”
Brant has been behind bars since July 5. He had been out on bail after being arrested for the April railway blockade.
He’s alleged to have violated a condition of his bail that forbade him from inciting or participating in illegal protests that blocked thoroughfares.
Justice D.K. Kirkland decided Brant couldn’t be trusted to respect the courts and locked him away while legal proceedings continue.
The preliminary hearing is scheduled to last three days. It is intended to satisfy the judge as to whether there is enough evidence for Brant to stand trial in a higher court.
Brant has elected to be tried by judge and jury.
When the preliminary hearing wraps up tomorrow afternoon, Rosenthal said he will again appeal to the court to let his client out on bail.
Rosenthal has compared Brant to Martin Luther King.
A civil rights lawyer and mathematics professor at University of Toronto, Rosenthal, told the Whig-Standard he took Brant’s case because he believes in Brant’s stated mission to create awareness of aboriginal poverty and oppression.
“In my view, the protest that they did was very justified in light of the horrors that have been done to them,” he said. “I hope the Canadian government starts to really rectify some of those injustices so that protests are not required in the future.”
Several Crown witnesses presented evidence at yesterday’s hearing, including lead investigator OPP Det. Const. Doug Weiss and Sgt. Kristine Rae, community services co-ordinator for the OPP in Eastern Ontario.
Managers from CN Rail also took the stand, but no evidence can be published because evidence at preliminary inquiries is generally forbidden under publication bans.
The hearing continues today.
OPP commissioner Julian Fantino is expected to testify tomorrow.
Brant’s trial date may be set this week.