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Jaggi Singh appeals bail conditions

Activist says his Charter rights are being violated by Ontario court’s ruling

A three-day hearing to review the restrictive bail conditions placed on Jaggi Singh, a prominent Montreal activist arrested at the G20 protest in Toronto this June, has been pushed back to November 30.

Singh launched a constitutional challenge of his bail conditions earlier this month, but the Crown prosecution – the Ontario government’s law team – has asked for more time to prepare their case now that PEN Canada will intervene on behalf of a restriction placed on Singh’s freedom of expression.

Peter Rosenthal, Singh’s lawyer and a University of Toronto professor, explained that many of the bail conditions violate the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

“We say it’s violating the freedom of expression, the right to peaceful assembly, freedom of association. Also section 11(e) of the Charter is that everyone has the right to reasonable bail; we’re saying the conditions he’s under are not, under the circumstances, reasonable bail,” he said.

As Singh awaits a possible trial in 2012 on charges of criminal conspiracy, mischief, conspiracy to both assault and obstruct police, and obstruction of justice, he cannot hold a passport, use a wireless device, participate in a public demonstration, or associate with his co-accused.

Singh, currently under house arrest, is required to obtain a note to be in the presence of other adults for specific purposes if outside his workplace or residence.  If he violates any of these conditions, he risks losing his $85,000 bail.

“The bail conditions are quite repressive, include house arrest, and that he cannot organize in any demonstrations, which is something he does quite a lot,” Rosenthal said.

 Speaking from Toronto, where he is required to stay in the home of one of his three sureties – a legal term signifying those responsible for a person during their bail term – Singh described these conditions as punitive.

“If it goes to trial, it’s not inconceivable at all that the charges get dropped halfway through, that they don’t stick, or that I win at trial. What the bail conditions do is they serve to be a form of punishment, when I haven’t been tried or convicted,” Singh said.

“Bail is supposed to be about making sure someone comes to court, that people don’t recommit criminal offenses, and that society is protected. … If [the Crown does] think that, they’re not going to prevent any of that by preventing me from demonstrating, [or] using a cell phone,” he added. Singh and Rosenthal are also not allowed to publicly discuss any of the evidence brought against him at the hearings.

Singh’s case has moved back into the limelight as a variety of groups have lined up to denounce his bail conditions, from No One is Illegal to Quebec’s Ligue des droits et libertés. PEN Canada, a non-profit group that defends writers’ free speech, made media waves when they announced on November 10 they had brought legal counsel on board to intervene at the hearing.

Program coordinator Brendan de Caires explained that PEN Canada was specifically concerned with the ban on Singh’s right to participate in demonstrations.

“Section 2(b) of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms says that you have the freedom of thought, belief, opinion, and expression. We think it’s not consistent with that to tell somebody he can’t, as a condition of his bail, communicate with people. We think it’s an abridgement of that right,” de Caires said. “How does that make a Canadian unsafe? … Can you tell someone, ‘You no longer have the right to give opinion publicly’?”

Though over 1,000 protesters were arrested at the G20 in June, Ontario’s Crown Attorney singled out Singh with 18 other individuals for allegedly committing “conspiracy.” They all face similar charges and bail conditions, with some facing a curfew, but Singh is the only one of the group who has chosen to protest the restrictions in court.

Community organizer Alex Hundert, who has also been charged with conspiracy, made news after he was arrested in September for discussing the G20 at a Ryerson University panel – allegedly breaking the “no demonstration” ban. Hundert was only released after accepting more bail restrictions.   
Singh said that the harsh bail conditions faced by him and others were a reflection of the level of repression at the G20.

 “[The conditions] are not surprising, because the G20 is about excessive use of force on the streets, abuse of authority by the police, and the complicity of the Crown in the repression and in that abuse, by continuing with charges, by allowing them to linger, and by not being forthcoming with disclosure that would reveal all of this,” said Singh.