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Clayton Ruby defends Charlie Veitch, second person charged under Public Works Protection Act

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PAUL JAY, SENIOR EDITOR, TRNN: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Paul Jay in Toronto. In a recent story on The Real News, we did a story about David Vasey. He was arrested under the Public Works Protection Act at the Toronto G-20. And we reported that he was the only person arrested under that act. Well, we were wrong. There was another person arrested, and his name was Charlie Veitch. And here is some video of his arrest.


CHARLIE VEITCH, ACTIVIST, LOVE POLICE: We’re—well, these guys are from Press for Truth, and I’m from the Love Police.

POLICE OFFICER: As it turns out—you’re currently filming, correct?


POLICE OFFICER: You can’t do that right here.

POLICE OFFICER: Failure to identify yourself under the Public Works Act is going to end up with you guys being arrested, which none of us [inaudible]

UNIDENTIFIED: And I don’t anticipate any trouble whatsoever. And that’s it. I hope that sounds fair and is fair with everyone. Right? So could—who’s got—.

UNIDENTIFIED: Is he being detained right now? Or—?

POLICE OFFICER: He’s just talking, the same thing that—. I’ve asked you to stop filming, brother. Come on.

POLICE OFFICER: Okay. So your friend didn’t want to tell the police who he was. So he’s been arrested for the time being. Okay?


JAY: When Charlie Veitch gets to the airport after G-20 is over, he’s about to board a plane to go back to his home in England, he’s arrested again. Why this time? Well, a few minutes before the first tape that you saw, he encountered a private security officer and told that officer that he was a member of the British military intelligence. And here’s a little clip from that encounter.


PRIVATE SECURITY OFFICER: —certification for that? Or—.

VEITCH: Yeah, we’re from British military intelligence. I’m here with the metropolitan police. See? So it’s all fully authorized at the highest levels.

PRIVATE SECURITY OFFICER: Do you have actual ID on you?

VEITCH: No. We don’t carry ID. We’re, like—.

PRIVATE SECURITY OFFICER: You don’t carry ID on you, in your wallet or on your person anywhere?

VEITCH: In the spy world we call them “ghosts”. And we are ghosts.


JAY: So when Charlie gets to the airport, he’s arrested for impersonating a police officer; hauled back to jail again. And now he’s facing both charges. And now joining us is his lawyer, Clayton Ruby, who’s a renowned, leading Canadian constitutional and criminal lawyer for decades in Canada. Thanks for joining us.


JAY: And, I should add, a member of the Order of Canada.

RUBY: Thank you.

JAY: So tell us Charlie’s story. This whole thing sounds completely bizarre and crazy.

RUBY: Well, you’ve got to put it in context. Charlie is a clown. Charlie runs absurdist theater. His job is to entertain the police while they’re harassing the demonstrators, and he does that very well and very, very cleverly. And it’s all designed to make a political point: he wants to point out the creeping police state that we’re getting into, he wants to point out the way we worship things in inappropriate ways, and he wants us to start thinking about how this could be done better. And that’s what he’s about. However, it seems the authorities do not have much sense of humor.

JAY: Apparently not. But let’s take the first charge first. The big one is, I guess, the violation of the Public Works Protection Act, because that’s the precedent-setting thing. Now, in Vasey’s case, they go to court expecting a hearing leading up to a trial for the Public Works Protection Act. When they get there, they can’t even find the charges; it’s all been blown away. And Howard Morton, his lawyer, you know, theorized that they don’t want this tested in court. But it looks like Veitch’s case is going to proceed.

RUBY: It’s hard to say that. At the moment it’s set to proceed, but I think you’d have to be a peculiarly dumb civil servant to say, I want to see a constitutional challenge of this act, which was amended in secret (and, it appears, deliberately so), have the various ministers of public works and the attorney general subpoena to court to explain why it was that notice wasn’t given to the public of a regulatory change, so that, as is the case in a democracy, people can conform their behavior to obey the law. If that’s impossible, it’s hard to say how that can be constitutional. So I would be very surprised if they want to have that court challenge, but I’d be delighted to bring it, and I think we’d all have a lot of fun with it, including Charlie, who would understand the theater.

JAY: He can get his megaphone out.

RUBY: That’s right. [inaudible] running commentary in the hall.

JAY: Now, I had a little go-to with Chief Blair at a press conference during G-20, where I asked him about the Public Works Protection Act, and I said, to all intents and purposes, this suspends probable cause. So here’s a little bit of his answer to that.


JAY: The act allows, essentially, for elimination of probable cause for search and seizure.


JAY: I can read it to you.

BLAIR: Yeah, by all means. I’ve actually read it at great length. It’s an act that in fact has been in the province of Ontario since 1939. Its authorities have been tested through the Ontario Court of Appeal and upheld. It’s not an act of which we are not familiar.


JAY: And I said, well, has this act been tested in court? Certainly, has it been tested during the life of the Charter? And would it stand up to the Charter?

RUBY: I know of no constitutional challenge to that legislation. It might get sustained, because its primary purpose is to protect named public works. So let’s assume that’s valid legislation. In order to commit an offense under the regulatory scheme in the Act, you’ve got to be entering or attempting to enter the enclosed area. Simple enough. Now, Charlie is standing outside the 5 meter limit. He doesn’t know anything about the 5 meter limit, any more than anybody else does—it’s all secret. But he’s standing well outside. The police say to him, come over here, and they put him 2 meters from the actual fence. Now they say, you’re within 5 meters of the fence. And the answer, of course, is: but he wasn’t attempting to enter the area. Indeed, there’s no way to enter the area at that point. There’s a 10-foot high fence, but no gate, no door. You couldn’t enter the area if you tried. So this prosecution is ill-founded on its facts.

JAY: But if they really try to fight you in court, then my understanding of the Act is that the policeman or the guard can define the boundary any way they please. And not only that; it’s actually irrefutable in court, that whatever the guard or the policemen says it is, it is, and you can’t counter it.

RUBY: It can’t be the case that a guard’s opinion or decision would take precedence over a regulation passed by Order-in-Council.

JAY: Maybe in this particular case, because they defined it. But the legislation, if I understand it correctly, doesn’t require them to define it.

RUBY: Absolutely. I think that’s true. You can define it in a number of ways, and that may be one of them. But in this case you’ve got a defined area by regulation.

JAY: And then they suck the guy into the—.

RUBY: They suck them into the 5 [meter limit]. But even then, they can’t make him enter in a place where there’s no gate. That’s a little hard.

JAY: Now, when I questioned Blair, I said one of the issues amongst many with this legislation essentially eliminates probable cause for search or seizure. He said that’s not true. Does this legislation essentially do that?

RUBY: It does. It replaces probable cause, the standard in ordinary criminal law, with the two factors [of] being within 5 meters of the restricted area and attempting to enter or entering the restricted area itself as your purpose. That replacement might be okay if in fact the Act was used to protect some small area—a munitions plant, a public work like a nuclear facility. But when you’re taking an entire section of the downtown and proclaiming it off-limits to people who want to protest, I have very serious doubts whether that’s constitutional in itself.

JAY: Charlie’s other charge seems ridiculous.

RUBY: Well, it seems ridiculous, and it is ridiculous. There’s Canadian case law from courts that say it is a crime to attempt to impersonate a peace officer. You can’t pretend to be a downtown Toronto police intelligence officer. Now, no one would believe it anyway—you look intelligent. But you can’t do it. It’s a crime. But the law is that you can impersonate all the foreign legal officers, foreign peace officers you want. You can, according to the case law, pretend to be a US marshal from Texas. But you can’t do that by pretending to be a member of military intelligence; that’s not an offense in Canada.

JAY: So they go to the extent of grabbing him at the airport, dragging him back downtown. This is this—it’s unheard of in terms of any norm of Toronto policing. What is going on here?

RUBY: Bear in mind that your idea of what is a normal Toronto policing is not based primarily on any value system the police hold that respects individual rights to protest. They seem to have none. It’s based on limited budgets. And what we’ve seen here is a picture of the police state to come, what happens when you give the police unlimited budgets: all the men they want, all the toys they want, all the machinery they want, and the right to control huge swaths of the city. That’s the police state that’s going to come if we give them the money to do it.

JAY: Which, apparently, we did.

RUBY: Which we did on this occasion, and which Mr. Harper wants to spend another $8 billion on, on prisons. That’s the other end of this. So watch out for this police state. It really will come with money. And there’s nothing to stop it, because those values of liberty and freedom and democracy are not cherished by the police departments.

JAY: But there are some other things that happened over the weekend, which, again, I think are maybe just as disturbing, in some ways even more disturbing than the Public Works Protection Act, ’cause they don’t normally drag that thing out anyway. They charge hundreds of people with breach of the Queen’s peace. What is this? And then they would take any number of gatherings, and then just immediately say, this is now an illegal assembly. I don’t know what the basis for it is. Where is the right to assemble, right to protest, if there’s any number of laws that can simply with a snap of a finger eliminate it?

RUBY: Well, let’s start with the breach of peace. And it’s a power which is very ancient. It was designed originally for the British constable to stop by the pub at closing time when he found two guys duking it out in the parking lot, and say, I’m ordering you to disperse; you’re breaching the peace by this fight. And they would have to do it. And if they didn’t go along nicely and separate, he could arrest them and separate them. Simple enough. Perfect sense. Good use of police resources. No charge gets laid, no trial is held, and they go home sheepishly. That has now spread—because it hasn’t got any limits; it’s a common-law offense—to a somewhat arbitrary universal power in all police officers. Now, the case law is not so horrible. It says, look, not everything is a potential breach of the peace, and that means you’ve got to have some actual threat of violence before you can do it. So if 100 or 200 people are sitting down quietly making a peace sign, there is no violence in the offing.

JAY: Which we know are—many of the people that got arrested were doing exactly that.

RUBY: Yeah, it’s a very common scenario: they’re not obeying the police orders to move, but on the other hand there is no threat or apprehension of violence. So that, arguably, I would take the position, is an unconstitutional use of that power. The police did it effectively. And bear in mind that once they do it, if they don’t lay a charge, your only recourse is to sue. Well, how many of us are going to take several thousands of dollars or several days of our time in order to teach the police a lesson, which, frankly, cannot be taught, because if you get a judgment for $500 for damages, they’re going to pay the money happily? They have unlimited sums for paying this kind of loss, and they could take 100,000 people at $500 each and would not blink.

JAY: Okay. In the next segment of our interview, let’s talk about what can we do, because what we’ve seen right now is, to all effective purposes, if they arrest 1,000 people or more and then don’t charge them, they’ve eliminated the right to protest and free assembly. But it’s never going to get tested in court, ’cause they just drop the charges. You know, they can go fishing and throw the fish back and nothing ever comes of it. So in the next segment: what can people do about all this? Please join us for the next segment of our interview with Clayton Ruby on The Real News Network.

End of Transcript

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Clayton C. Ruby is one of Canada's leading lawyers specializing in criminal, constitutional, administrative and civil rights law. He currently practices law with the firm of Ruby & Shiller in Toronto