Published on Wednesday, May 9, 2001 in the Montreal Gazette
Justice and Jaggi Singh
by Janet Bagnall
Even the Green Zone Wasn't a Safe Haven by Naomi Klein
Quebec City Protest Organizer Jaggi Singh Faces New Charges by Kevin Dougherty
If anti-globalization protester Jaggi Singh had been a sex offender or a member of a biker gang, he probably would have been released from prison a lot earlier than Monday evening. It is unlikely that the 29-year-old activist would have been held even overnight were he anyone other than who he is, a high-profile political activist. Full-fledged gang members have been charged with threatening to kill a police officer and not been kept in jail for two minutes, never mind the 17 days that Singh spent in Orsainville jail following his arrest at the Summit of the Americas conference in Quebec City.
Unfortunately for Singh, the Quebec justice system took far more seriously the idea that someone "assaulted" police officers in full riot gear with toy teddy bears than it does real, live physical assault. Or sexual assault, for that matter. Or uttering death threats. Or even pretending to be a police officer while you're sexually assaulting minors. People who committed crimes such as those in the past several months in Quebec got bail right away. Jaggi Singh did not.
Odd? Definitely. Here's a look at some of the cases:
- Gamin Fircine Desrosiers, 37, of Laval was let free on bail following his arraignment in March on charges of impersonating a policeman to intimidate a 15-year-old girl into having sex. Laval police have collected another 15 complaints about Desrosiers.
- Laurent Houde, 51, an elementary-school teacher in Thetford Mines, was released on bail after being charged in March with 22 sex-related charges, including 10 charges of sexual assault, involving five minors.
- In January, three members of the Evil Ones, a biker gang, were all charged with uttering death threats against Granby municipal police officers and their families. Stephane Cretes, 31, of Brigham, Richard Skinner, 28, of Granby and Pierrot Lachapelle, 28, of Shefford Township, were all released on bail.
- In April, Eric Savard, 28, and Michel Richer, 33, both of Laval, were released on bail after their arrest on charges of assault with a weapon, in this case a knife used to stab to death another Laval man, Michel Latendresse.
In ordering that Singh be kept in Orsainville jail, Quebec City Judge Yvon Mercier was at pains to point out that Singh had not, in the judge's estimation, abided by the terms of an earlier probation order. The order, issued last October, required that he leave the site of any demonstration that ceases to be peaceful.
This sudden zeal of the Quebec justice system for hewing to the letter of a probation order will come as a surprise to anyone remotely knowledgeable about how justice is dispensed in the province. For starters, Quebecers should know that judges have been asked by Justice Minister Paul Begin to send as few people to jail or prison as possible, given current overcrowding in the prisons.
How worried is the Quebec judicial system about probation or parole violations, generally speaking? Hells Angels member Mario Auger, 31, of Quebec City is an instructive example. Between 1987 and 1997, he was charged with 73 crimes, including theft, breaking and entering, assault, impaired driving, perjury, counterfeiting and impersonation. During that time he was either on parole or probation. It was pretty much a permanent state with him. He was never charged with parole or probation violations. Not once.
Singh, on the other hand, testified in court that on the day he was arrested he stepped to the sidelines during the demonstration to comply with his probation order. Mercier did not believe him or any other witnesses who testified he had nothing to do with the infamous catapult. Singh now has a new probation order, issued by Quebec Court Judge Laurent Dube, which bars him from playing a leadership role in any further protests and specifically states he cannot use a megaphone.
The Quebec judges involved in his case remain alarmingly unclear on the concept of the democratic right to freedom of speech and assembly. The state has no business trying to rule who can - or cannot - be a leader. Nothing in the testimony before the courts proves that Singh is anything but a non-violent activist who is engaged in open and free political debate in Canada. If the courts can suddenly rule that this is unacceptable behaviour, we're in a lot of trouble. At the very least, the courts have covered themselves in ridicule, staunchly defending helmeted, masked police from young men and their teddy bears.
Janet Bagnall is a Gazette editorial writer.
Copyright © 2001 CanWest Interactive and The Montreal Gazette Group Inc