Sunday, November 7, 2010 | Categories: Michael's Essays
November 7, 2010
During the 1968 Federal election campaign I, was assigned to cover the tour of Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau.
During a visit to Toronto, his political handlers decided to have him make a walkabout on the Toronto Islands to glad hand party workers, picnickers and sun bathers.
At one point I was a few yards in front of him, notebook in hand, walking backwards when three young men who looked like students jumped out and began screaming at the PM - Something about "traitor" and "capitalist lackey" or some such.
Trudeau, barely aware of the shouting, was quickly ushered to one side by his security people.
Then three of the largest Toronto cops I had ever seen quietly thumped the protesters to the ground and hauled them away.
The young men were charged with disturbing the peace. Some weeks later they were brought to trial and I was asked to testify for the defense.
In the witness box, I described what had happened as I saw it. I said: "If there was any 'disturbing the peace', it was caused by the police." Naturally the defendants were quickly convicted.
Authorities in this country have always been uncomfortable around the concept of the public expression of dissent.
Whether you were a Winnipeg striker in 1919 or a pro-lifer in the Seventies, you could only go so far in publicly registering your protest.
There is a long and honored tradition of heckling politicians. You can yell your lungs out. But if the copper standing near thinks you're too loud, off you go to the crowbar motel.
Recently following the mass arrests at the G20 Summit in Toronto, the question of public dissent and the police reaction to it has come under scrutiny.
For example, the cops designated a so-0called free speech area during the summit at Queen's Park; far away from the actual meetings.
But on the Saturday of the summit, police, some on horseback, charged through the free speech area arresting people.
Which raises the question: Are police too quick to confuse public displays of dissent with incitement to commit violent acts?
Last August in Kingston, a group of resident protested the closing by the federal government of six jail farms.
In the rain, outside the Frontenac Institution, they marched up and down and at some point apparently impeded traffic.
But instead of issuing the protesters with tickets or a summons, the police arrested 24 of them, including a 14-year-old girl.
Also handcuffed and thrown into a cruiser and taken to jail was a 87-year-old woman named Terry Hudson. In the world of protesters, Ms. Hudson is the ideal - dignified, committed, persistent in exercising her rights.
And again there is the ongoing saga of Alex Hundert, an alleged ringleader of conspirators who was arrested before the summit.
Initially he was released on $100,000 bail with some very restrictive bail conditions - not going to political demonstrations or talking to the media, among them. In October, he appeared on a panel at Ryerson University discussing political activism.
The police and the Crown took this as his attending a political demonstration. They said he had violated provisions of his bail.
Now, after this kafuffle, Mr. Hundert was arrested yet again on the arcane charge of "intimidation of a justice system worker by threat." It's not at all clear what the alleged threat consisted of.
So Mr. Hundert is back in jail in a hell hole called the Metro West Detention Centre.
Now I wouldn't know Alex Hundert if he bobbed up in my soup; I'm not defending him against the charges and allegations against him.
But it does seem that given the efforts of the Crown to keep Mr. Hundert in jail, he must be one of the most dangerous men in the country.
His lawyer John Norris says everybody involved in the Hundert case, should step back,. Take a deep breath and try to re-gain some perspective of what went on at the G20.
Incidentally, in a troubling postscript to the G20 fiasco, it was disclosed this week that during the disturbances up to 90 cops removed their ID badges.
The Toronto police chief said they would be disciplined.