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 In November, 11 of 17 people accused of conspiracy in orchestrating the riots had their charges withdrawn as part of a plea deal.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.