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Canada: Prosecutors Pull out of Anti-Activist Conspiracy

Montreal Gazette
April 6th, 2001

Prosecutors are threatening to quit a special eight-member team set up by the provincial government to prosecute protesters arrested at the Summit of the Americas this month.

They are objecting to what they claim is political interference with the judiciary on the part of summit organizers.

One prosecutor has already left the team, and others are expected to follow.

Prosecutors say provincial Justice Minister Paul Begin has directed them to delay all bail hearings of arrested protesters for the maximum three full days allowed by law, as a way of keeping them off the street for the duration of the summit, April 20-22.

"This is political interference, and we should not stand for it," said one prosecutor who did not wish to be named. "It's a plan of battle to hold them in jail. We will not accept these directives."

The Criminal Code allows bail hearings to be delayed for a maximum of three "clear days" between the day of the arrest and the day of the hearing. This means that protesters could find themselves behind bars for five days.

Normally, defendants are processed within 24 hours of their arrest. Often they are released the same day from a police station with a promise to appear in court.

The prosecutors also say they do not want to prosecute people who are protesting against repressive governments represented at the summit.

The Quebec government has built a concrete and chain-link fence around a large section of the Old City where the summit is to take place. About 25,000 protesters are expected to show up.

Jails have been cleared and thousands of police officers from the Montreal Urban Community force, the RCMP and the Surete du Quebec are being brought in for security.

Prosecutors say they have been told not to subpoena police as witnesses during the week of the summit because they won't be available.

Prosecutors noted that the Criminal Code allows them to seek publication bans on bail hearings. One prosecutor said he believes that after the five days of incarceration, charges will simply be dropped in most cases.

He said the provincial government is just using the judiciary to keep protesters off the streets.

Montreal prosecutors plan to make public within the next few days a letter of solidarity with the protesters, one prosecutor said.

Prosecutors are negotiating with the province for better salary and working conditions.

Quebec prosecutors work in extremely difficult conditions. Most do not have computers. Eighty-five prosecutors in Montreal share four secretaries. While Begin, as justice minister, is paid $14,496 more than his Ontario counterpart, Quebec prosecutors are paid about half as much as Ontario prosecutors.

Since The Gazette reported on the poor conditions last month, Begin has promised to get the prosecutors computers. But he refuses to connect them to the Internet because, he claims, it's too expensive. That means they won't have access to online jurisprudence.

Prosecutors complain that they have no time to prepare files and have to plea-bargain more than 90 per cent of their cases.

Summit of the Americas

Where: Quebec City
When: April 20-22

  • The purpose: More than 9,000 delegates from 34 countries in North, South and Central America, members of the Organization of American States, will meet as part of the continuing process of trying to unite the economies of the Western Hemisphere -- except for Cuba's -- in a single free-trade agreement, the Free Trade Area of the Americas.

  • The opposition: As many as 25,000 demonstrators are expected to descend on Quebec City to protest against the FTAA, which they say will serve the interests of richer countries and multinational corporations at the expense of human rights, the environment and the poor.

  • Security: More than 6,000 police officers from across Canada will be on duty during the summit, hoping to prevent the chaos and violence that have marred similar meetings.

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