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Defend OCAP and John Clarke

by Richard Mellor (aactivist [at] igc.org)
John Clarke, an Ontario Coalition Against Poverty organizer is facing up to five years in prison for defending the homeless
Brothers and Sisters:

On June 15th 2000, homeless people and their supporters in the Ontario Coalition Against Poverty marched on the Ontario legislature to address the politicians on the housing crisis and the plight of the homeless. They were brutally attacked by the police but fought back.

Three of the organizers were subsequently arrested and charged with rioting, organizing and planning a riot. Due to their defense and worldwide support for these activists, a mistrial was declared and the charges were withdrawn against two of them.

However, John Clarke, one of the most respected activists in Canada is being re-tried in an attempt to destroy him and weaken OCAP. He faces up to five years in prison if convicted. Supporters of OCAP are in the process of forming an OCAP defense committee to defend brother Clarke and force the state to drop the charges.

We are planning coordinated actions in various cities in the U.S. on September 5th including San Francisco. Brother Clarke needs your help. If you have ideas or would like to help build this committee and organize the event in the Bay Area, please e mail the OCAP Defense Committee at :

aactivist [at] igc.org or wildcat99 [at] earthlink.net

The following is an appeal from OCAP

OCAP ORGANIZER FACES SECOND TRIAL AND THREAT OF JAIL

An Appeal for International Solidarity

On October 7th, Ontario Coalition Against Poverty Organizer, John Clarke, will go on trial for the second time on charges that he was an architect of a 'planned riot' on June 15, 2000, at the Ontario Legislature in Toronto, Canada. If convicted, he faces up to five years in jail. He is being tried under antiquated and reactionary sections of the Criminal Code that have been seldom used in the Post War period. The use of such sections are a serious attack on our organization and pose a major threat to civil liberties and the rights of assembly and expression. We are asking for international support and solidarity in the face of this attack. For those unfamiliar with the events surrounding the so called 'Queen's Park Riot' of three years ago, we provide a brief chronology below.

June 15, 2000

OCAP challenges the crisis of homelessness in Ontario with a march on the Ontario Legislature. We demand that the Government receive a delegation of people affected by this crisis. This is rejected and no attempt is made to negotiate with us. As the delegation moves up, backed by some 1,500 supporters, a whole line of barricades collapses. Later we
discover that these had not been mounted in the ground as they were supposed to be. As a section of the crowd surges forward, a body of mounted police rides into the demonstration and, a few minutes later, riot police begin baton charges and a process of clearing the grounds that precipitates an hour long confrontation that sees dozens hurt on both sides.

The police make some arrests that day and go all the way to the Supreme Court to obtain the right to seize all media videos and photos taken that day. Eventually, some forty five women and men are arrested. Many of the homeless people arrested have great difficulty making bail. One young man spends seven months in Toronto's Don Jail before being released.

July 22, 2000

Police arrest Stefan Pilipa, Gaetan Heroux and John Clarke of OCAP on charges of 'participating in a riot. The Crown proceeds with these charges against Stefan and Gaetan but later changes John's to 'counselling to participate in a riot' and 'counselling to assault police'. A Superior Court Judge will later find that police failure to bring the three to court in a timely fashion and the searches conducted on their persons, amounted to a denial of their constitutional rights. All three are hit with bail conditions that bar them from attending demonstrations or associating with any members of OCAP.

September 14, 2000

A bail review hearing amends the conditions of the three. They are still denied the right to associate with each other but the ban on contact with other OCAP members is lifted and a limited right to attend demonstrations is restored. This is a major setback for the Crown/police strategy of breaking up our organization.

June 15, 2001

Following a demonstration at the Ontario Finance minister's office, John Clarke is arrested on minor charges. Due to his outstanding charges, however, a Justice of the Peace denies bail on the grounds that he is a 'danger to the public' and a detention order is issued. He is
released by a higher court a month later but only at the cost of the ban on attending demonstrations being re-imposed.

January 13, 2003

The Jury trial of the three accused gets underway. Most others charged around June 15 have now passed through the courts but, as more serious, indictable charges, these are dealt with in Superior Court. The Crown's allegations of a 'planned riot' led by the three are met with a legally effective and politically principled defense. OCAP witnesses acknowledge that they are part of a militant poor peoples' organization that came to Queen's Park on the day to demand entry and, if necessary, to try and force negotiations by means of a stand off with the authorities. The confrontation that took place, however, is presented as the product of the Government's intransigence and the provocative and incompetent behaviour of the Police. A section of the Jury finds this case entirely plausible. On May 11, after five days of deliberations, they find themselves hopelessly and explosively deadlocked. A mistrial is declared.

June 18, 2003

The three go back to court. The Crown announces that Stefan and Gaetan will have their charges withdrawn. "In the public interest", however, John will face another trial on October 7th.

The public order provisions of the Criminal Code that are still being used against John Clarke, were used routinely in the 1930s to try and suppress the resistance of the unemployed. That they have been dusted off for present day use is a disturbing development. In law, a riot is a gathering of three or more people that 'has begun to disturb the peace tumultuously'. A successful conviction under such legislation would place
all militant pickets and demonstrations at risk. The accusation of counselling in this case, moreover, is based on a speech John gave on June 15 in which he urged the crowd to support the demands of the delegation to be allowed to enter the Legislature. Any forceful or impassioned political speech might be targeted for criminal sanction if this charge
succeeds. OCAP will certainly not be silenced by any result of the upcoming trial but the potential chilling effect on the whole movement and the ugly precedent being sought can't be overlooked.

We are appealing for international support in the struggle against this reactionary legal attack. There will soon be an open letter to the Attorney General on our website at http://www.ocap.ca and all are encouraged to sign it. Individually written letters are also extremely welcome. Examples and contact information are also be found on our website. Of particular importance are the delivering of protest letters to Canadian diplomatic facilities. Supporters in New York City have done this as have the California Coalition Against Poverty in San Francisco, the Western Cape Anti Eviction Campaign in South Africa and the Equality Trade Union - Migrants Branch in Korea.

When charges against Stefan and Gaetan were dropped, the Crown acknowledged that the flood of letters that had come in had been a major factor in obtaining this result. Support actions now are not just a gesture. They will have an impact and may be decisive.

Please help OCAP defeat the legal attack we face so that we can continue to fight the real crimes of poverty and homelessness in this society.

In solidarity,

The Ontario Coalition Against Poverty

**

Ontario Coalition Against Poverty

517 College Street, Suite 234 Toronto, Ontario M6G 4A2

416-925-6939 ocap [at] tao.ca http://www.ocap.ca




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