Bizarre JP Eventually Reduces fine to $50
SCARBOROUGH, MAY 27, 2005 -- The arbitrary nature of the secretive court process which has jailed five Muslim men in Canada a collective total of 203 months was evident in the Scarborough municipal courthouse today for the verdict and sentencing of three people charged following a brief, nonviolent sit-in at the CSIS Toronto headquarters last October.
In a moment more fit for a circus sideshow than a "democratic nation's" courtroom, a mumbling Justice of the Peace (JP) Cledwyn Longe decided to deal with his own personal authority issues by laying $1,000 fines on Diana Ralph, Kirsten Romaine and Matthew Behrens, three of six people charged at the sit-in, which marked three years in solitary confinement for Hassan Almrei, one of the Secret Trial Five.
During their April trial, JP Longe behaved abusively towards the defendants, making senseless and arbitrary orders, ignoring relevant video testimony, and walking out in the middle of Mona Elfouli's testimony about the difficulties she and her children have faced during the five years her husband, Mohammad Mahjoub, has been incarcerated without charge.
Longe was clearly disturbed at the April trial that individuals came to court prepared to stand up for their rights and the rights of the detainees with whom they held their solidarity sit-in. Like anyone in power, he could have acted in a paternal, "if only they understood the difficulties of my position" manner and dismissed it all as an interesting sidebar to his normal roster of traffic and pet by-law violations.
But instead, like the power structure he represents, he chose to lash out angrily both then and again today.
At 3 pm, defendants Romaine and Behrens rose to hear what they were hoping would be a reasoned, detailed analysis of the submissions they had made regarding the sit-in, and the necessity and related defences which were laid before Longe in April.
But before the verdict was delivered there was trouble. After they were identified by the court, the defendants sat at the defence table so they could take notes on the verdict.
"You will stand in my court," he ordered Behrens and Romaine.
"I need to sit so I can make notes on your verdict," Behrens explained.
"Not in my court!" Longe responded in that "This is my court and I'll do as I damn well please, Charter of Rights be damned!" manner.
"Fine, I will walk over here and lean against this bar, so I can make my notes," Behrens proposed as he moved towards the edge of the elevated desk.
"No, you will stand right there," Longe chided him.
An embarrassed court clerk, perhaps fearing this would devolve even further, graciously handed Behrens a piece of cardboard to make notes against while in a standing position.
Turns out there was nothing of note in the JP's so-called decision.
Rather than producing the reasoned, analytical approach to the submissions and testimony that were presented to him six weeks earlier, he mumbled like a school kid who hadn't done his homework and was faking his way through the oral exam.
"Defendants occupied space...refused to leave...no proper defence presented...guilty as charged..." he stumbled.
He turned to the prosecuting attorney, who had a long lineup of traffic offences to deal with, and asked for a sentencing recommendation. She said she would leave it in his hands.
He looked at us and pronounced his verdict.
"$1,000 fines." He was pleased. Putting us in our place. How dare we come to his court and assert ourselves!
"That's an incredibly severe penalty for such a minor demonstration for which there was no violence, no one was hurt, it was over in a matter of minutes," Behrens explained.
"Well, I could have fined you $2,000," Longe beamed.
Obviously someone very much in love with his grandiose power.
"What are your reasons for this huge fine?" Behrens asked.
"I don't have to give you any," Longe replied.
"We were there not for ourselves, but for human rights, for everyone," Romaine explained.
"That's irrelevant," Longe stated, just as he said the testimony of Mona Elfouli was irrelevant before he walked out on her in April.
Behrens explained it was remarkable that an offence which didn't even require a preliminary court summons and which, if the defendants had simply ignored it, would have resulted in a $75 fine, had suddenly ballooned into a major amount of cash.
But it made sense. If we had obediently accepted the notion that we were guilty for our sit-in -- designed to draw attention to human rights abuses here in Canada and the potential deportation to torture of the Secret Trial Five -- then that would have been the end of it.
But because we decided to contest the notion that there was something wrong with our act of necessity, to try and save the lives of these men, their families, and the very notion of due process itself, we were to be punished.
It was an act very much in keeping with the nature of what we were protesting at CSIS. Indeed, when Muslim men refuse to spy for CSIS, they are thrown in jail for years without charge or bail, and threatened with deportation to torture.
Obedience is rewarded, disobedience and conscience are punished.
In the end, Behrens explained that in similar cases, individuals are often either given an absolute discharge or a fine of $100. Romaine explained that she has no employment but that, even if she did, that was not the point--why were we being punished for standing up for human rights?
"Irrelevant," came the favourite word of the JP, adding, "Fifty dollar fine" in the same arbitrary manner in which he had pronounced the first fine.
We assured him we would not pay it, and walked out of court to the thumbs-up and smiles of most of those awaiting the opportunity to contest speeding and parking tickets.
Last night, as he called from his solitary confinement cell, where he has spent the past three years and 8 months, Hassan Almrei spoke about the impending court decision.
"You know of course you are guilty," Hassan explained. "You guys are guilty of being human, you are guilty of caring for people who spend years in solitary confinement on secret evidence."
While we could have shared this with the JP, it would perhaps have been declined -- like everything else that has to do with human rights and democracy -- as "irrelevant" in his courtroom.
Undeterred, the defendants will continue to campaign to end secret trials in Canada, and have marked their calendars for the 24 Hours Against Torture vigil on June 8. Hassan Almrei has a bail hearing scheduled for June 27 and 28.
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