Canadian Court Bans G-20 Defendant from Speaking
Alex Hundert’s G20 nightmare began on June 26 when Toronto Police raided his home at 4 a.m., arresting he and his partner Leah Henderson at gunpoint. One month later they were released from prison on $100,000 bail each, with 20 stringent conditions, including conditional house arrest, non-associations with some of their best friends, and a ban on posting to the internet and attending or planning any public demonstrations. Upon his release, Hundert gave a handful of interviews to the media, and the police tried to return him to prison for breaking his ‘no demonstration’ condition. A judge ruled in September that speaking to the media was protected and didn’t break the condition. Four days later Hundert was arrested again immediately after participating as an invited speaker on a university panel. This time, after spending an additional four weeks in prison, a judge sided with the police that Hundert did break the ‘no demonstration’ condition. Hundert’s bail was amended to include a total ban on voicing any political view, specifically mentioning that he not speak with the media.
From our research this represents a modern first in Canada, and many are gearing up to fight it.
This also includes a sit-down interview with Hundert that was filmed in September, before the new conditions were added.
JESSE FREESTON, PRODUCER, TRNN: On Friday, The Toronto Star‘s Dan Robson wrote, "Alex Hundert’s words will not appear in this story. Unlike other Canadians, he’s not allowed to speak to the press." That’s because on Tuesday, social justice activist and G-20 defendant Alex Hundert of Toronto was judged to have breached his bail conditions by participating in a university panel discussion. His newest bail conditions were then amended to include a ban on all public political expression. Hundert is one of 20 organizers facing serious conspiracy charges stemming from June’s G-20 protests, and his case has served as a litmus test for civil liberties in Canada.
When I say "Free Alex," you say "Now." Free Alex!
FREESTON: Hundert’s battle with the law began in June when he was arrested at gunpoint, along with his partner Leah Henderson, in a 4 a.m. pre-summit raid on their Toronto home. After spending a month in prison, Hundert and Henderson were released on $100,000 bail apiece, with 20 stringent conditions, which included conditional house arrest and a promise not to participate in public demonstrations. After Hundert gave a handful of interviews to the press, the police tried to have him thrown back in jail for breach of the no public demonstration condition, but the courts ruled that talking to the media isn’t a public demonstration. Soon after, Hundert appeared as an invited guest on a panel at Ryerson University.
ALEX HUNDERT, ORGANIZER AND G-20 DEFENDANT: —a year-and-a-half-long police operation where undercover police infiltrated our organizations, partially because we’re just not as smart as we think we are. And as a result, people are facing potential serious jail time.
FREESTON: The panel was called "Strengthening Our Resolve" and stressed a need for unity across issues and tactics. It included organizers fighting for queer and transgender rights, indigenous sovereignty, poverty eradication, migrant justice, and other objectives.
HUNDERT: And it’s really important also for people to never give up, never stop fighting, and never surrender. And that’s part of why we put this event together and why I’m speaking here. And I hope that the cops in the audience don’t try to arrest me later. Thank you.
FREESTON: When Hundert arrived at his dad’s home that night, the police did just that, arguing that the panel was a breach of his no demonstration condition.
[VOICEOVER]:This is typically what a panel or an indoor meeting looks like. Now, this is what a demonstration looks like.
FREESTON: Hundert was jailed for another four weeks before being given the new condition of a ban on expressing political views.
CROWD: We will not give up the fight!
Free speech is a right!
CROWD: We will not give up the fight!
FREESTON: The Real News spoke to Yogi Acharya, a member of both the Toronto Community Solidarity Network and the migrant justice group No One Is Illegal.
YOGI ACHARYA, TORONTO COMMUNITY MOBILIZATION NETWORK: —blatant attacks on community organizers is clearly meant to set a precedent and to send a warning sign to the broader activists [inaudible] and to communities in general, I think, to not resist and to not sort of voice opposition to [inaudible] So I think the intent is clear: it’s to criminalize dissent and to use any kind of means to do so, even if that means making examples out of people who are, who have been vocal and who have been public.
FREESTON: Hundert spend an additional four weeks in jail before the courts agreed with the police that the panel appearance represented a breach of his bail, and they conditioned his re-release upon accepting a full-out ban on political expression. Hundert told the court that he would rather remain in jail than consent to his own gagging. But less than 24 hours later, Hundert was free on bail. His brother Jonah Hundert told The Real News that prison officials threatened to keep Alex in solitary confinement indefinitely without access to a phone call, lawyer, or any of his property unless he immediately signed the bail conditions. Jonah added in a press release that, quote, "Forcing Alex to sign these egregiously unjust bail conditions under duress is absolutely unacceptable." Osgoode law professor Alan Young was quoted in the Toronto Star as saying, quote, "It’s basically putting a gag order on a citizen of Canada, when it’s not clear that the gag order is at all necessary to protect public order." He added that the conditions were unheard of in modern-day Canada. The Real News spoke to Hundert in September, between jail stints and before he was banned from speaking, in order to find out more about this long-time activist that the government was intent on silencing.
HUNDERT: And the fear of imprisonment and the fear of the abuses that happen in prison, you know, are—that is explicitly there to try and dissuade people from resistance. And while that was something I was aware of before I went in, it is a lot clearer to me now.
FREESTON: Hundert is a well-known organizer around various issues, and throughout our interview he pleaded that people not lose sight of those issues. He highlighted his opposition to the Canadian government’s imprisonment of Tamil migrants seeking refuge from persecution in Sri Lanka.
HUNDERT: They’ve been totally criminalized and demonized as terrorists or potential terrorists or threats to national security.
VIC TOEWS, CANADIAN PUBLIC SAFETY MINISTER: —approximately 490 individuals on board, including suspected human smugglers and terrorists, did not come to Canada’s shores by accident.
HUNDERT: Which is the same discourse they’re putting out about us. You know, there was this huge mass arrest in Toronto of 1,000-plus people, the largest in Canadian history. Several weeks later, 492 Tamil migrants were mass arrested and are all still in detention, including women and children.
FREESTON: Some campaigns Hundert has helped organize include opposition to the war in Afghanistan, land defense from development, and dependence on oil. But perhaps most important to him is supporting struggles for indigenous sovereignty, opposing what he sees as the Canadian government’s ongoing colonization of the land’s indigenous nations. He points to the Two Row Wampum agreement as an alternative model. The 1613 agreement was the first between the Haudenosaunee Confederacy—or Iroquois—and the European settlers.
HUNDERT: It represents two separate vessels containing the cultures and the politics of separate nations that travel down the same river, and each vessel carries down on its own path in a way that does not impede the other’s ability to make its own decisions. The fact that it’s a single river reflects the inherent need for people to recognize that we all share common land bases and that there needs to be room for autonomous decisions to be made by autonomous and sovereign communities and nations that share a single land base. And I think our culture is so off from that model. I mean, we are inherently making decisions that destroy not just other people’s ability to have a future, but even our own ability to have a future. And in order to secure profit for the privileged now, this culture seems quite willing to destroy all other paths. In indigenous communities where sovereignty is on the table or where land defense is something that communities are engaged in, those communities are also targeted and criminalized. It seems to be our model, contrary to this model, is one that says there is only one path and anyone who challenges that path will be targeted for destruction.
FREESTON: While appreciative of the support people are showing for him, Hundert has expressed his desire that people not lose sight of the larger issues while standing up for his civil liberties. He explained why during our interview in September.
HUNDERT: It is almost a waste of time to spend our time fighting for the right to fight. By fighting for the things we believe in, we assert our right to fight, to fight back against an exploitative, destructive system. And that’s a right that can’t be won; it has to be asserted. Fighting back against the so-called austerity agenda, you know, fighting back against repeal of social services, of access to health services and education, fighting back against those has tremendous value, because those are the day-to-day circumstances of the people most fucked over by the system. But for people to fight just for their right to fight so that they feel better about, you know, the farce of this democracy because, oh, well, I could take the streets if I wanted to, I think that’s totally worthless. I think the way to continue to have the right to protest is to protest. The way to continue to have space for resistance is to resist, to actually build those spaces and to defend them.
FREESTON: Hundert will have to wait at least one month to appeal his gag condition. Nathalie Des Rosiers, head of the Canadian Civil Liberties Association, has already promised to intervene in Hundert’s defense, saying that "Speaking to the media does not threaten public safety. These bail conditions are only aimed at silencing speech." As for Hundert’s conspiracy trial, the details of which are under a court order publication ban, it is expected to drag out for years to come. Meanwhile, to the south, people are also mobilizing against the policing of dissent. In part two, we meet up with a group putting forth a creative response to recent FBI raids in the United States.
End of Transcript
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