Jaggi Singh walked out of a Quebec City jail yesterday a free man.
Having spent the past 17 days in detention after his arrest at a protest at last month's Summit of the Americas, Mr. Singh, whose detention had made him Canada's most talked-about activist, was released on $3,000 bail.
As part of his conditions of release, Quebec Court Judge Laurent Dubé said he could participate in peaceful protests but not play a leadership role. More specifically, Judge Dubé barred him from using a megaphone during any protest.
Upon his release from Orsainville prison last evening, Mr. Singh reacted defiantly to those conditions, saying that one of the principles of anarchy is that there are no leaders.
"I'm not a leader of anything although one of my conditions of release is that I'm not to be a leader. A very anarchist condition of release I guess."
Judge Dubé ruled that since Canada is holding no major event in the near future that would bring together heads of state or business leaders, Mr. Singh posed no danger to society. Furthermore, he said Mr. Singh has a fundamental right to protest and to participate in the struggle against globalization.
Crown attorney Georges Letendre had wanted Mr. Singh barred from any demonstration in the Quebec City judicial district.
Mr. Singh, 29, said he would fight the conditions of his release all the way to the Supreme Court of Canada if necessary, with the help of prominent civil rights lawyers Clayton Ruby and Julius Grey.
"It is a police state when powers are given to the police to identify who is a leader and who isn't," Mr. Singh said. Being barred from using a megaphone constitutes "an infringement on my freedom of speech and violates the Canadian Charter [of Rights and Freedoms]."
Mr. Singh was denied bail last week after another judge, Yvon Mercier, ruled that by attending the Quebec City demonstration, he had violated bail conditions related to his arrest in a protest in Westmount a year ago.
The ruling triggered an uproar among labour leaders, civil-rights activists and many high-profile opponents of the corporate free-trade agenda.
As the number of signatures on a petition to free Mr. Singh reached more than 6,000 on Friday, the Westmount charges were dropped. Judge Dubé said yesterday the dropping of those charges voided the reason for his detention.
Yesterday's bail hearing was related to separate charges that Mr. Singh violated bail conditions imposed after his arrest during a demonstration in Montreal last October to protest against a meeting of finance ministers of the world's 20 leading industrialized countries. They had not been raised during the first bail hearing.
Once again, the prosecution tried to portray Mr. Singh as a violent individual, a leader of the clashes between police and demonstrators in Quebec City and someone who could not be trusted to abide by his bail conditions.
After the summit, he was charged with breaching bail conditions, participating in a riot and in possession of a dangerous weapon, a catapult that was used to lob teddy bears at police.
Quebec City Detective Sergeant Doris Pagé said tests showed that the catapult could hurl dangerous objects, but acknowledged that no one saw this happening. Nor was there any film from nearly 20 police surveillance cameras to substantiate such a claim.
Photographs produced by Pascal Lescarbeau, a lawyer appointed by the court to assist Mr. Singh, indicated that police had altered the catapult's mechanism to make it more powerful than it was during the protest. Mr. Lescarbeau said a spring used to restrain the catapult was missing from the police photographs taken during tests.
Paul Smith, an Ottawa landscaper, said he took the catapult to Quebec City from Lanark County and was stopped twice by police. Mr. Smith said the device was designed to throw nothing more than confetti and teddy bears.
"It was nothing more than a theatre prop," he said. "It fired three teddy bears" before being moved away from the security fence. A teddy bear called Serge was entered as an exhibit by the defence.
Mr. Smith also wondered why police did not arrest those who operated the catapult but focused exclusively on Mr. Singh, although even police said they never heard him directing the use of the device.
"An officer took his club and pushed me on the pavement," Mr. Smith said. "I got up and the officers took the catapult away. . . . Police did not give any explanations and did not ask for names."
Witnesses said Mr. Singh remained far from the catapult during clashes and used his megaphone to direct people away from the area. "Clearly I have been singled out by police," he said. "The charges against me are flimsy."
In releasing him, Judge Dubé said Mr. Singh is a non-violent activist and his detention would only discredit the administration of justice.
Mr. Singh has waived his preliminary hearing and his case will go directly to trial before a jury. The trial date will be set on June 4.
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