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(en) Canada, Kafka, Orwell and our lives - a version of "freedom".

From Bernard Cooper <bcooper@cam.org>
Date Fri, 11 Feb 2000 04:27:39 -0500


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I was in court last Monday Feb 7 trying to contest a ticket. A
three-and-a-half year old, 25$ bike-demo ticket that had ballooned to 271$.
I also had a warrant for imprisonment against me. I came with a witness, in
from Kingston Ontario. I didn't even get to first base; the judge denied my
request to have a hearing. He said I waited too long to contest. In direct
contradiction of what is written on the back of the ticket, he said that if
I do not respond with a plea, I am presumed guilty.

So I walked out of court with Robert "Bicycle Bob" Silverman and Dr. Conrad
Sichler, my witness. I had the option of being hauled off at a bad time to
serve up to 11 days in jail, or to buy a bit of freedom. Jails are for
people without money or power, I have a bit of money, so I paid the fine.

I thought I'd bought myself some peace of mind. In paying at a city hall
office, the clerk informed me that I had a hearing next Monday February
14th. -A hearing? for what?- I asked. -Were you arrested last Aug 2nd?-
Yes, I told him. It's a hearing for that criminal matter, he informed me.

I was stumped. That was the Phelps demo. I was charged with disturbing the
peace, held in jail five hours, and released on a promise to appear in
court Oct 18-99. I appeared on Oct 18, with lawyer in tow, only to discover
that my name was not on the rolls. At the time, a municipal court clerk
told us that the Crown's proof was not ready. -And likely never will be- I
said. We were told that I'd receive a summons by mail or bailiff. The
lawyer Lescarbeau asked the clerk to stamp the summons I had for that Oct
18th. That way, he said,  I had proof that I was in court, in case the cops
tried to arrest me for skipping the court date. (I wondered if I should
carry this piece of paper around with me at all times; what's a billy club,
pepperspray and handcuffs when confronted with a stamped, official
document?)

Getting back to last Monday, and our friendly City of Montreal bureaucrat
(I really think some are decent and responsible, though still clueless). I
told him that I'd received a summons when I was arrested, showed for the
hearing, which was cancelled without notice. -And the court now expects me
at another hearing held without notifying me- I add. -Yes, he responded. He
turned the monitor my way, showing the ominous words in uppercase:
"EMISSION D'UN MANDAT D'ARRESTATION A VENIR" (ISSUEING OF AN ARREST WARRANT
FORTHCOMING)

-I don't understand; is this a warrant for my arrest in this case? I asked.
-I believe so- said the laconic clerk. -But how can the authorities talk
about the immanent issueing of a warrant when they have not informed me of
the hearing date, would have no proof that I could have known of it, and
don't even know if i'll be there or not? Why talk about eventualities?- The
clerk took my words as one would when listening to someone thinking aloud.
There was no answer.

Smiling meekly I asked the bureaucrat if the Crown would be surprised if I
showed up next Monday. -No- he stated, barely hesitating to consider. -But
why wouldn't they be surprised if they have no reason to believe I'd been
notified? after all, very few people happen to come to the courthouse at
the right moment-

-Is it normal to not be informed about a criminal hearing concerning
oneself? I went on. -No- he responded with the barest reassurance. -The
hearing will likely not take place when they discover that you haven't been
informed of it. The police need proof that you weren't there to arrest you.
But now you know about this hearing through informal chanels. Show up and
ask for the crown's proof and make your plea.-

The bureaucrat's account of my situation left me no less puzzled. I asked
him to print what was on his monitor for me. He obliged, highlighting  in
yellow my name and the hearing date. I looked over the counter, around him,
imagining there was a superior who could account for this unannounced
hearing in my case. I fancied that somewhere, perhaps the City Prosecutor's
office, there was an Official who knew everything that needed to be known
about my case.

This was barely reasurring. I couldn't help but think that with the
recently unpaid fine, along with the warrant for imprisonment, all that the
police needed was an excuse to arrest me for skipping a hearing in a
criminal matter. I would protest that I'd not been duly informed, but they
would then conveniently find the warrant for imprisonment. So in paying my
fine, I inquired exactly how long it would take for that fact to filter
down to every police cruiser. The clerk claimed it was immediate; that the
imprisonment warrant would be withdrawn. It seemed obvious. But with
everything else I'd heard in this office, how could anything leave me free
of doubt? I was not convinced that peace of mind had been bought with the
swipe of a credit card. Anxious doubts nagged me, and I was eager to reach
my lawyer...

-Bernard C

***********************
Remember JOSE-CARLOS GARCIA, shot to death by Montreal police in 1988.

Heard in a police interrogation chamber, ten years latter, March 1998:

(an activist): "Have you ever given your condolences to the Garcia family?"
Seargent-Detective Alain Richard: "Garcia was an asshole, he deserved to be
gunned down."

4th International Day Against Police Brutality - March 15 2000

***********************



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