Is dissent being banned in Canada?
By AARON DONCASTER
ON the morning of 12 September 2007 supporters of Cole Webber and the Halifax Coalition against Poverty [HCAP] came to court to support him in his defence against an assault charge arising from an HCAP action. Mr. Webber won the case very easily, but it was not a complete victory for the people of Canada on that day.
During a small recess in the trial, while outside of the court house, Colin Bell was arrested by the Halifax Regional Police. Well after the trial was over, while walking up Spring Garden, I was also picked up by the Halifax police. Mr. Bell and myself were both charged with breaching restrictive conditions placed on us after being arrested at the Atlantica protests in mid-June. The conditions that Mr. Bell and myself were both charged with breaching were a non-association condition and a no public demonstrations/protests condition.
Before I talk about the unconstitutional nature of these conditions, I want to look at the facts to determine whether we were actually guilty of a breach. While in front of the judge that morning the crown prosecutor asserted that Mr. Bell and myself were "observed associating together." If this were the case, then we have to ask ourselves why an arrest was not made during the alleged "association"? If the police had the ability to observe us assoc-iating with one another, then they definitely had the ability to make an arrest at that time. There is a simple reason why there was no arrest during an association, and that is because no association took place.
The crown prosecutor also mentioned that an HCAP e-mail went out (evidence that a legitimate anti-poverty organization is having their e-mails monitored by the government) calling for a gathering to support Mr. Webber for his trial.
This support came from about twenty or so individuals who were in the court to support Mr. Webber. They did not come to participate in a public demonstration. I did not go there for a public demonstration, I was there to give my support to Mr. Webber. I am sure the same can be said of Mr. Bell. There were no placards or banners visible, there were no slogans or chanting.
Nothing happened to suggest there was a protest or demonstration. There were individuals outside the courthouse waiting for a trial to begin. A protest is defined as "the act of protesting; a public (often organized) manifestation of dissent." We were not organized now were we vocally showing our dissent. A demonstration is defined as "a public display of group feelings (usually of a political nature)." Could it be argued that a group of supporters sitting in a courtroom were displaying their feelings of support?
An argument can be made that any gathering of three or more constitutes a group and thus a demonstration. According to such logic, everyday life for both myself and Mr. Bell would be as easy or hard as the authorities want it to be. It depends on the arbitrariness of how the authorities define a demonstration or protest. We may be able to go to Food Not Bombs to eat, or we may not. We may be able to interact with more then one person at a time, or we may not.
The deliberate vagueness of the no protest/demonstration conditions gives the authorities free rein to enforce it as they see fit.
When conditions are enforced, they must not only be enforced in accordance with the letter of the conditions, but also the spirit of the conditions. I am sure that the intention of having the "no protest/demonstration" condition was not to be vague. That would mean that when the conditions enforcement is open to interpretation - although it is following with the letter of that condition - it is not following with the spirit of the condition. Aside from its blatant unconstitutionality, in order for the enforcement of the condition to be legal, it cannot be so vague.
At this point I wish to discuss the unconstitutional nature of the conditions and why this should be of concern to all Canadians.
Section 2 of our Charter of Rights and Freedoms states that everyone has the fol-lowing fundamental freedoms: a) freedom of conscience and religion; b) freedom of thought, belief, opinion and expression, including freedom of the press and other media of communication; c) freedom of peaceful assembly; and d) freedom of association. The two conditions that Mr. Bell and myself were charged with breaching are in direct violation of Subsection c and d of Section 2 of the Charter.
The Charter of Rights and Freedoms is a legal document that many Canadians value. It seemingly gives us protections, in particular, protection against prejudice and discrimination. The Charter gives Canadians a sense of fairness in a very unfair world. The Charter is a document our government is suppose to uphold and even strengthen but instead we see that the state is actively destroying the Charter by taking away our fundamental charter rights.
Seeing that the government in Ottawa today is running a state that is stripping Canadians of their fundamental rights under the Charter, if we wish to protect the Charter then I see no other alternative than to demand the resignation of the federal conservative government, calling for new elections and voting in those who will protect our fundamental democratic rights! An attack against one is an attack against all. It is only by defending the rights of all that individual rights and security can be provided with a guarantee.
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