Montreal activist Jaggi Singh is free.
Charged with ‘counseling mischief’ at a press conference prior to the 2010 G20 protests in Toronto where he urged people to “take down those fences and those walls that separate us”, he faced a possible jail sentence of 6 months [video of press conference]. The judge, however, handed down a suspended sentence, counting time served on house arrest.
Jaggi emerged from the old city hall courthouse into the brilliant sunlight, greeted by supporters and quickly surrounded by a media scrum. He had no apologies.
“I have no regret for what I said. My only regret is that we didn't succeed in tearing down that fence, and we didn’t succeed in effectively disrupting the G20 in the way it deserved to be disrupted,” he said.
Jaggi used his time with the mainstream media to draw attention to other issues relating to the G20 that have yet to be addressed.
“Where is the video surveillance from the eastern dentition centre? It’s a year late,“ he said.
Jaggi also sent solidarity messages to those still facing charges—people like Byron Sonne and Ryan Rainville, both of whom faced significant jail time and severe bail conditions. Sonne was only recently released from jail.
He also drew attention to heavy sentences served by people like Nick Catenacci, a non-activist who was spontaneously caught up in the riot and received a 17-month sentence for his role in burning a police car. A reporter from News 1010 was particularly aggressive on this point, asking him again and again if he condoned the burning of cop cars. A reporter from Quebec interrupted, asking a question in French.
”It’s interesting that the French media just doesn’t get all worked up over property destruction; they recognize that there are still other issues,” said Jaggi. “It’s a difference of political culture between Montreal and Toronto, where there is still this conservative WASPy influence. I mean, apparently in Vancouver they had 17 burning cop cars…”
In the knot of supporters was John Clarke from OCAP [Ontario Coalition Against Poverty], himself no stranger to politically motivated charges.
“There is no question that the courts are [part of] the repression of the state against political resistance that dresses it up as something fair and objective. But the real issue is that they did really badly today,” he said. “We have reasons to celebrate and the prosecutor has reasons to lick his wounds, and that’s the best we can do in their court system.”
The judge counted not only house arrest but also time under severe conditions as counting towards the sentence, acknowledging that not attending or organizing a demonstration was a significant restriction of civil liberties, which in Signh’s case significantly interfered with his ability to work, since he works as an organizer with QPRIG.
Clarke noted that this sets an important precedent for the sentencing of other G20 defendants, many of who suffered under more draconian house arrest conditions.
Singh agreed that the court process itself is punitive. “In this case the procedure is the punishment,” he said.
Singh drew attention to the double standard applied to activists being charged for speech crimes, and police, who displayed significant violence against hundreds of people during the G20, and who got off with impunity.
“Two police officers charged? That’s just a drop in the bucket,” said Singh. “I’m here to defend what I said and I’m not ashamed of it. Meanwhile you have cops on the stand [who] were basically lying--lying about the identity of another cop [who] was totally identifiable”.
This double standard also applies to massively expensive undercover operation against activists recently covered by Tim Groves. Singh suggested that if state money was spent infiltrating other right-wing or corporate groups, they might uncover more significant criminal activity.
“What if they infiltrated political lobbyists?” he said. “But instead they spent 2 years infiltrating political groups and all they get is a bunch of people talking about the G20, talking about what happened anyway--and that’s a conspiracy charge, even though thousands of people were talking bout what might happen at the G20.”
Jaggi Singh is heading home to Montreal to continue organizing mass movements for social justice, because just being released is not enough.
He stood on the courthouse steps, starting up at the sandstone structure that of Old City Hall, represents both Canada’s colonial past, and the present justice system in Canada.
“If we had real justice,” he said, “it would be the G20 leaders up there in the courtroom facing charges”.