Billy Bragg penned those words over twenty years ago in “The Marching Song of the Covert Battalions”. Seven years later, at the APEC’97 meetings in Vancouver, the RCMP were busy arresting and pepper-spraying students for no apparent reason. The students were upset that the University of British Columbia was hosting President Suharto of Indonesia, among others, and were conducting peaceful protests when their rights were abused. This is a recent story by Christopher Guly of The Lawyers Weekly respecting the aftermath of the police crackdown at the G20 event in Toronto last year. Don’t they ever learn?
By Christopher Guly
December 23 2011 issue
Most of the criminal cases emerging from last year’s G20 summit in Toronto have been resolved, but several remain unsettled, including one that a lawyer vows will “embarrass” the Ontario government.
“I think they’re stupid to go ahead with it,” Toronto criminal defence lawyer Howard Morton says of the impending trial against a deaf man charged with assaulting a police officer and resisting arrest. In November, 11 of 17 people accused of conspiracy in orchestrating the riots had their charges withdrawn as part of a plea deal. Six entered guilty pleas to lesser charges of counselling mischief; two of those also pleaded guilty to counselling to obstruct police.
Morton represented Joanna Adamiak, who was among those who had their charges dropped. He also serves as counsel to a man still facing charges arising from the 2010 G20 protests — a case Morton believes is one of the most egregious examples of Charter rights violations to have emerged from the summit. Emomotimi Azorbo faces two charges of assaulting a police officer and one charge of resisting arrest. His trial is scheduled to run from Feb. 6 to 10, 2012.
Azorbo was arrested on the eve of the summit on June 25, 2010. Morton describes the accused as an “apolitical” man who was with a friend and neighbour, Saron Gebresellassi, as they crossed the street in search of water when police began yelling at him. Since Azorbo cannot hear or speak, he couldn’t understand what they were saying to him.
“The woman he was with kept yelling to police: ‘He doesn’t hear, he doesn’t hear,’” explains Morton who, as a member of the Law Union of Ontario, agreed to act pro bono on G20-related cases. “There was a bit of resistance when police handcuffed him because he didn’t know what was happening.”
Azorbo was taken to the Eastern Avenue detention centre, where Morton arranged to have him meet with another lawyer and Gebresellassi, who could have provided interpretation using American Sign Language (ASL). Instead, a female Toronto Police officer, who knows ASL, served as his interpreter. “A lawyer is not going to give meaningful advice with a police officer doing the interpreting,” says Morton, who served as Ontario’s police watchdog while heading the Special Investigations Unit from 1992 to 1995.
Azorbo was granted $1,000 bail and has already made two court appearances. On the first occasion in July, 2010, two court-ordered interpreters (one using ASL, the other signing for Azorbo because he’s not fluent in ASL) failed to show up. Justice Kofi Barnes said that, in the absence of the interpreters, he couldn’t proceed with the case under s. 24.2 of the Charter and set another court date.
The following month, Azorbo appeared before Justice Salvatore Merenda, this time with interpreters present. “The judge looked at the Crown and said: ‘I’m amazed you’re going ahead with this,’” recalls Morton, who said the prosecuting lawyer asked for a week to talk with his “superiors” about whether or not to proceed on humanitarian grounds. When the court reconvened, the Crown decided to proceed with its case against Azorbo, much to Justice Merenda’s surprise, Morton says.
“This province brags about accessibility in the justice system for people with disabilities. But it’s really quite horrible, particularly for somebody who doesn’t even understand why he’s there.”
Morton says he plans to use the Charter to “embarrass” the government when Azorbo’s case is heard next year. “If the Office of the Attorney General doesn’t want to be on the front page of the [Toronto] Star about how my client can obstruct police when he doesn’t even know what they’re yelling at him and they don’t allow him an interpreter, who was only a [few] feet away from him when he was arrested, it should drop the case against him.”
Morton is equally appalled by the treatment of Adamiak and the other alleged G20 mayhem conspirators who at one point were under house arrest and were banned from using cellphones.
“I’ve had clients charged with manslaughter that had less severe bail conditions,” he said, adding that only two of the original 20 people charged with conspiracy had criminal records for obstructing police at demonstrations similar to the one during last year’s G20.
“The laying of the charges and strict bail conditions was an attempt to try and justify turning downtown Toronto into an armed camp during the G20. Characterizing a group of 20 and 30-somethings as part of a major conspiracy at the G20 was “overblown” by police and the Crown, says Toronto lawyer Peter Rosenthal, who represented two of the activists — Montrealer Jaggi Singh, who pleaded guilty in April to counselling mischief and Patrick Cadorette, who was among the 11 who had their charges dropped in November.
“An extraordinary amount of money was spent on security, and two OPP officers spent over a year infiltrating groups planning protests — but they came up with very little considering all that and very few people were convicted,” says Rosenthal.
posted by Cameron Ward
We were directed to make oral submissions today to the Commissioner concerning our desire to seek the addition of witnesses to the Commission’s abbreviated witness list. Lawyers for other participants had made similar requests, but it appears that their overtures were summarily acceded to and we were the only counsel required to explain why we felt that other people probably had material evidence to offer to assist the Commission in its mandate. We did not get very far.
As we endeavoured to explain why Bill Hiscox should be called as a witness, the morning’s hearing disintegrated. Hiscox was repeatedly referred to in VPD Deputy Chief LePard’s internal review report and his name has been mentioned no fewer than 212 times in LePard’s oral testimony so far. (LePard is still on the stand and is scheduled to appear for his twelfth day tomorrow).
Hiscox, as those following this matter may be aware, was the man who came forward in July of 1998, telephoning Wayne Leng and Crimestoppers to report that a pig farmer in Port Coquitlam named Willy Pickton was probably responsible for Sarah deVries’ disappearance as well as the disappearance and murders of the other missing Vancouver women, that he was a “sicko” and that he had slashed the throat of a Vancouver woman the year before. He spent months in contact with VPD Det. Cst. Lori Shenher but was unable, despite all of his efforts, to get police to stop Pickton’s murderous spree.
Of course, after Pickton was serendipitously arrested in February of 2002, it turned out that everything that Hiscox had told police nearly four years earlier had been true. Pickton was convicted of six murders in 2007 and, although 20 more first degree murder charges against him were stayed by the Crown, he is suspected of being responsible for as many as 49 murders. Many of them were committed after Hiscox went to police with his information.
Here’s the Vancouver Observer’s take on today’s proceedings.
This public inquiry was established on September 27, 2010. We have yet to hear testimony from a police officer who was involved in the investigations.
posted by Cameron Ward
December 7, 2011 in Missing Women Commision of Inquiry, News, Opinion
We have been advised that when the Missing Women Commission of Inquiry resumes its hearings on December 14th, the Commissioner will consider applications from those participants seeking to add witnesses to the Commission’s list.
The Commission has circulated a pared-down witness list of 31 police officers and 17 other witnesses, for a total of 48 witnesses in all. As counsel for the families of twenty of the missing and murdered women, we will be making an application for at least 21 additional witnesses to be added to the Commission’s current list. It is not yet clear whether other participants will be making similar applications.
The Commission’s formation was announced by then Attorney General Mike de Jong on September 27, 2010. Evidentiary hearings began on October 11, 2011 and the Commission has heard from 15 witnesses over 26 hearing days since then. The Commission has not yet heard from any of the police officers or other law enforcement personnel directly involved in the matters that are the subject of the inquiry. Hearings are on hiatus at the moment, with VPD Deputy Chief LePard still on the stand under cross-examination. We have been told that the Commission will sit for three more days this month (December 14-16) before adjourning until January 11, 2012.
posted by Cameron Ward
Richard Rosenthal, who until recently was Denver’s Independent Monitor, has been appointed as the new civilian director of the IIO. He was the subject of an article written by Joel Warner and published earlier this year in Denver Westworld News. We welcome Mr. Rosenthal to our province and wish him well in his challenging new endeavour.
posted by Cameron Ward
CKNW News is reporting that the provincial government is poised to announce the appointment of the civilian director of the Independent Investigation Office, the new body created to investigate incidents of death or serious injury involving police. The creation of the IIO was one of the recommendations made by William Davies, Q.C., the respected former judge appointed as Commissioner of the Frank Paul Inquiry.
Frank Paul died of hypothermia in a Vancouver alley in December of 1998 after he was dragged out of the Vancouver Jail, inert and soaking wet, by police, who dumped him in the industrial laneway where his body was spotted a few hours later by a passer by who was looking for a lost cat. The Vancouver Police Department conducted a “neutral investigation” into his death, the Criminal Justice Branch reviewed the case five times, but no charges were ever laid against those who caused the death.
The IIO is a welcome development, but it probably comes too late for the families of Frank Paul, Ian Bush, Jeff Berg, Kevin St. Arnaud, Robert Dziekanski, Kyle Tait, Majencio Camaso, Orion Hutchinson, Benny Matson, Roman Andreichikov, Paul Boyd, Alvin Wright and the other BC. residents who have recently died at the hands of police. The criminal justice system failed these families, for nobody faced charges in any of these homicides. In my opinion, the new head of the IIO, whoever he or she may be, should make it a priority to review each and every one of these cases.
The IIO will be as effective as the people who run it. Here’s hoping that the new IIO leader is a principled, independent and strong-willed individual who has a keen sense of social justice and is committed to making a real dfference.