Homes Not Bombs won a significant legal victory in Ottawa on 7 November 2000 when 38 people charged with criminal mischief and obstruct police were acquitted of charges laid at the Nov. 1999 action to transform the War Dept. into the Housing Dept. On that day, 54 people were arrested, with various charges dropped or diverted from the courts in the following year.
The demonstration had been organized to address the crisis of homelessness and to link that crisis with outrageously high military spending in Canada. Relying on a series of court decisions in which many of the activists had been involved (including the planting of a garden at Queen's Park, the creation of a greed-free zone at King and Bay streets in downtown Toronto, and blocking Mike Harris's campaign bus in Guelph, all of which resulted in acquittals from criminal charges), Homes Not Bombs secured a judicial decision which provides a blueprint for non-violent resistance which cannot be criminalized.
Following a day of powerful testimony about the effects of poverty and the need to halt military spending in Canada, during which no objections were heard from Judge J.A. Fontana, the defendants argued that the three-hour occupation of the Mackenzie Bridge outside the War Dept. was well within the limits of tolerance within a democratic society. Judge Fontana agreed, calling the demonstration "particularly unique" and noting it was well organized, well advertised in advance of the day, was symbolic (employing the creation of a civil society outside the War Dept.) and was non-violent, causing no damage. Quoting the greed-free zone case, in which Justice Hogan asked, "Were the actions of the demonstrators within the limits of tolerance in a democratic society, or did they cross into the realm of criminal wrongdoing?" Fontana concluded "that really is what it is all about, and I am sure that is the test that will be with us for some time."
Concluding that the actions of Homes Not Bombs did not cross that line, acquittals were thusly registered, to the horror of the Crown attorney and police in attendance. (It was also revealed at the start of the trial that police had infiltrated the Ottawa non-violence training session with undercover officers prior to the action to gain information on the logistics of the demonstration)
The Crown, Nathalie Coté, noted that each prior judicial decision presented involved defendants before the court that day, and that the Homes Not Bombs demonstration marked another event in a dangerous progression which saw the number of participants growing. Defendants countered that this was in fact a positive progression, as the numbers were growing, their effect was stronger, and they continued to be nonviolent. "When you can put 200 people together to form a community where they sleep on a church floor together, cook meals together and feed one another, and participate in a stressful situation using complete nonviolence, that is indeed a progression, so we take that as a compliment," one noted.
Coté also attempted to infer that the demonstration was anti-veteran, occurring as it did the day after Remembrance Day, but defendants pointed out that they were also there to demonstrate for proper veterans' benefits, especially with respect to depleted uranium exposure.
In summing up, defendant mandy hiscocks of Guelph noted "we've submitted case law which argues that the criminal code should not be used to stifle such expression, and that the charter of rights and freedoms protects our right to participate in political decision-making in this way. As members of the world community, our responsibility to uphold international law when our government refuses to do so demands that we engage in this kind of activity.
"Ms. Coté has stressed that it is the balancing of these rights with their effects on others that must be considered here. I agree. War and homelessness kill and irreparably damage people, animals and the environment, and rerouting traffic causes minor delays and frustration. I submit that the balance is in our favour."
The balance was in our favour, and the court witnessed a jubilant reaction when the decision was handed down. Copies of this significant decision, which would be a good guidepost for folks planning non-violent direct action, are available from PO Box 73620, 509 St. Clair Ave. West, Toronto, ON M6C 1C0. firstname.lastname@example.org
STATEMENT OF KEVIN SHIMMIN:
HOMES NOT BOMBS TRIAL
Statement of Motivations &endash; Kevin Shimmin
Ottawa, November 6-7, 2000
My motivations for participating in this action, are both local and international, strategic and spiritual. I have witnessed families living without food, clothing and shelter because of war and because of economic policy. I have worked for human rights in Sri Lanka, where one of the world's most devastating armed conflicts has killed more than 100,000 people and left more than half a million people homeless. The current government of Canada has supplied the Sri Lankan government with Bell military helicopters that are armed with rocket launchers and machine guns, and are used to destroy entire villages and kill all of their inhabitants. Anyone who survives these attacks is forced to live in the open, without shelter, and struggle to survive both violence and rampant disease.
Civil turmoil is transformed into violent conflict in countries such as Sri Lanka, specifically because rich nations like Canada are more than willing to manufacture and sell arms to both state and non-state actors which are in the business of oppressing their own people. I do not agree with this policy, as I know many other Canadians do not either. I do not believe that my government should participate in the armed invasion of a country such as Yugoslavia either, especially when a peaceful resolution to that conflict was very possible. I condemn the fact that my government has never bothered to ask Canadians whether or not they approve of their country participating in violent attacks, war preparation and arms manufacturing. Democracy is not working in this country, and we all have a deep responsibility to find intelligent and non-violent methods to ensure that our government starts listening to its constituents.
Under international law to which Canada is a signatory, it is a crime to supply nations with weapons that are knowingly deployed against unarmed civilians. It was indeed a crime under the United Nations to participate in the invasion of Yugoslavia. But it is also a crime for such a rich nation as Canada to deny people fair and affordable access to housing. Indeed, the United Nations has continuously cited the fact that Canada is in violation of this fundamental covenant. It is nothing less than shameful that Canada is the only industrialized nation in the world without a national housing policy. People are dying on the streets of this country &endash; not from their own liability, but because there are not nearly enough affordable housing units in most Canadian towns and cities. While many people demand that something must be done to remedy this national disaster, the government is not listening. Something must be done to let the government know that this is an extremely important issue to Canadians, and that "something" is most effective when it is exercised with compassion, thoughtfulness, respect and non-violence.
Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King adopted non-violence as both a strategic and spiritual method of resisting and transforming forces of injustice. Hundreds of thousands of women, men and children followed their lead and participated in countless sit-ins, freedom rides and satyagrahas. Each and every one of those courageous individuals struggled non-violently and collectively, certain that the sources of oppression in society were not their "enemies," but rather adversaries who could be transformed through love and respect. I am strongly motivated by this ideal ñ to recognize the forces of injustice and to transform those forces with respect, intelligence and perseverance. I am by no means "angry" with the individuals who compose the police and the judiciary. Rather, I simply desire that you recognize the duty and responsibility with which we come before you ñ to try our very best to change the sources of injustice and to build a better society based on love and respect for all human beings.
Just like Gandhi saw the end of colonial rule in India through non-violence, just like King witnessed the dawn of civil rights in America through non-violence, we too have experienced practical results from our commitment to non-violence. The Prime Minister of Canada, who was in Africa on November 10th last year, was asked some poignant questions by world leaders that day ñ Why are there so many people without food and shelter in such a rich country? Why are these peaceful protesters being put in jail? Mr. Chretien was pressured by our act of commitment and respect to defend his policies concerning housing and homelessness, or rather his lack of policy thereof. Though there has since been virtually no shift in the government's refusal to build affordable public housing for Canadians, it is clear that our actions have helped to raise this issue in political circles and around kitchen tables, across the country and around the world. Public awareness and discourse is a fundamental first step to ending injustice and building respect under any situation. And so, my friends, the struggle carries on.
In closing, I am motivated by my brothers and sisters who go without food and shelter across this country. I am motivated by my friends who fight with words rather than the sword, while living in war zones where Canadian gunships fly over head. I am motivated by the memory of Gandhi, King and Rosa Parks, who chose to stand up and sit down for justice, who walked calmly into the valley of tyranny and rose high on the peak of humanity. And finally, I am motivated by all my sisters and brothers, in this court room today and around the world, who challenge injustice with truth&endash;who stand up to aggression with non-violence&endash;who transform oppression with dignity.
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