(en) MTL anti-hunger activists released with new bail conditions

Bernard Cooper (bernard@infobahnos.com)
Sat, 13 Dec 1997 02:30:44 -0500

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Montreal anti-hunger activists released with new bail conditions

On Friday Dec 12, the two activists that have been in jail since the Dec 3 restaurant action, where food was reappropriated and redistributed to hungry anti-poverty demonstrators, had their bail conditions considerably lightened. They accepted them and were to be released late on Friday. The precedent-setting ruling is important for arrested activists, who often have punishing bail conditions offered to them.=20

After last week's bail hearing in Montreal municipal court, the two refused to accept the bail conditions that included the sweeping prohibition from participating in any demonstration of any sort until the end of the proceedings. Immediately, this was appealed to Quebec superior court.=20

In this last week, the Dec 3 action and its fall out has received almost daily news coverage in most of the media; a sort of counter-leitmotif to the sentimental, pious outpourings of charity food-drives. The police seizure of TV footage of the event helped focus on the issue of the media's collaboration in police repression. Global TV news director Benoit Aubin, in an article published in the three dailies writes: "The media should never be forced into a situation in which their ability to perform their task would be jeopardized- either by the distrust of the public that they stool to the police, or by the cops' own silent retaliation against media that refuse to help." If only we activists had just to deal with the cops' "silent retaliation".

On Friday, noted constitutional and civil-rights lawyer Julius Grey defended the cause of three of the activists: Luc Brisbois, who provisionally accepted his release conditions, and the two imprisoned men, Alexandre Popovic and Yves Manseau. Grey argued that the total ban on participation from demonstrating amounts to a violation of freedoms enshrined in the Canadian charter of rights. It should be enough to simply ask that they keep the peace. When Popovic was asked why he did not accept the bail conditions, he replied that the condition to not demonstrate amounts to a false liberty. "in jail, there=92s no ambiguity" he added. His conscience would not have allowed him to bow to such suffocating release conditions, even if only to contest them from the outside, he indicated to the prosecutor. The testimony from the police official was typically authoritarian: He said the activists "questioned the authority of police... they shouted slogans and questioned the establishment"=20

Our lawyer, Julius Grey, jumped on this, saying that "the great danger lies in the sargent detective=92s testimony" with his objection to "questioning the establishment". With case law he explained how the right to demonstrate, to incite others to do so, and to tell people of their rights vis a vis the police, is not just limited to doing it in a polite, academic, or quiet manner. Shouting slogans, however rude, rowdy or denunciatory, is also a right.=20

Grey maintained that to forbid in advance (prior restraint) civil disobedience, or demonstrating amounts to the silencing of discussion, and presumes the political order's infallibility. The prosecutor and the police did their best to highlight the activists' prior run ins with the law, their organizing role, and the strong likelihood that actions would continue. They also are doing their best to try and charge them with assault and other charges that involve violence.=20

The judge, Benjamin Greenberg, referred to section 11e of the charter, which says that bail conditions must be reasonable and not violate fundamental charter rights (at issue in here was article 2, "peaceful assembly" and "freedom of association") Conditions need to be necessary, not just opportune. =20

Since Yves Manseau's activism is about monitoring the police by being present at demos, and informing people of their rights, and since he has no prior convictions, the judge invalidated the bail condition that prohibits participation in demonstrations. For Popovic, who was again described as a leader (media in the past have idiotically called him the "leader of the anarchists"), and for Brisebois, the condition was made more specific: They can not participate in demonstrations done on private property without having the prior consent of the owner. ("could we please pillage your buffet next week, it's for a demo..."). They can't participate in a demo on public property unless it is peaceful and remains legal. If they find themselves in a demo which becomes non-peaceful or illegal, they must leave without delay.=20

When speaking to media, Grey said that the rightward drift in society is having disturbing effects on civil rights, that there have been many recent incidents that show that civil rights are under attack. For the second time this week, the CBC national TV news focused on the anti-APEC events in Vancouver as an example of this phenomenon. They also showed images of recent political activities in Quebec, notably last June's St-Jean Baptiste day riots in Quebec City.=20

The four alternative local weeklies all had articles on the fallout from Dec 3's action. Voir, which normally is very weak in news, announced on its cover "the return of the left". However, in their coverage of two Leftist stories, our Dec 3 action, and a 650 person gathering of nationalist social-democrats, socialists and communists toying with the idea of founding a party to the left of the Parti Qu=E9b=E9cois, they have bluntly assumed the left is electoralist and they assert that essential to being on the left is being a Quebec nationalist and sovereignist. We anarchists, and others on the left that are allergic to political parties, still have a lot of work to do on the "alternative" media...

This new ruling on Dec 10, which I was very pleased to have been able to witness, should be used to appeal bail conditions that attempt to restrict our freedom to organize and demonstrate. Because the justice system takes next to forever to bring demonstrators to trial, bail (release) conditions are being systematically used to muzzle dissent. This is now recognized as an infringement of fundamental charter rights.=20

As for the comrades in Montreal, many of us support the call for the formation of a human chain around the municipal court building on Tuesday Dec 16, when Manseau and Popovic are supposed to stand trial. Now that they are no longer in jail, it is likely that the trial date will be considerably postponed. The Committee of the Unemployed, which organized the restaurant action, has been soliciting the support of organizations. Among other things, they are asking that all charges and conditions against the activists be dropped. Please tell me if you have not seen the "Declaration of Solidarity with the anti-hunger activists".

Vive les actions... d=92expropriation!=20 Once annihilate the quackery of government, and the most homebred understanding might be strong enough to detect the artifices of the state juggler that would mislead him. -William Godwin

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