OCT. 22, 2002
Protesters Arrested at Ontario Power Generation Cleared of Criminal Charges
The seven smog protesters on trial for criminal mischief 14 months after they were arrested at the headquarters of Ontario Power Generation, Canada's largest polluter, were found not guilty by Justice Parry today (October 22) at Old City Hall. The seven&endash;-Shane Sarsfield, Angela Bischoff, Kirsten Romaine, Greg Bonser, Mary Hutchinson, Matthew Behrens, and Sue Breeze&endash;&endash;defended themselves during the Sept. 12-13 trial which preceded the decision.
In a brief decision, the judge noted that many of those charged were "veteran" protesters" who knew how to "pick up the gauntlet" when it comes to protesting social injustice and that, while the demonstration was a "valid and necessary exercise of rights," he did think the organizers could have used some introspection in terms of planning to disrupt traffic in an area with hospitals.
Parry did note in his decision that one mitigating factor in the resisters' favour was the fact that ample notice of the demo had been provided to emergency officials long in advance as well as to the public, and that police on horseback, bicycles, cruisers, and video teams were more than prepared to handle the situation.
Nevertheless, he found that the way in which police set up--blocking the curb lane of traffic on University Avenue with both officers and a van&endash;-was the cause of any traffic backup and delay any ambulance might have faced the day of the demonstration. Hence, the charge of interfering with the lawful use and enjoyment of property could not stick against the demonstrators.
"While it's a relief to be declared not-guilty after having had criminal charges hang over our heads for the past 14 months, it's a concern that police continue to treat nonviolent protesters as criminals, laying serious charges that are often accompanied by strict bail conditions that seek to limit the right to protest," said Matthew Behrens, one of the seven.
"We had hoped that the judge would have touched on the fact that in our five previous criminal acquittal precedents, all focused on the growing criminalization of dissent. People concerned about homelessness, the environment, and a host of other social ills should not have to wait 14 months or two years or however long it takes to be vindicated in the court process for showing up at a Charter-protected protest and being busted by the police. It's clearly a strategy by the police to repress voices of dissent and intimidate people."
Sue Breeze, another of those acquitted, sighed upon leaving the courthouse, declaring, "It's a victory for us, but the crime of air pollution that's killing over 2,000 people every year in this province continues, and the corporate criminals at OPG and in other positions of power have not been brought to account. Hopefully our acquittal today will send a message to them."
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