G20 First Appearance Court

On Monday, August 23, 2010, over 300 individuals charged during Toronto’s G20, nearly two months prior, had their first appearances at the courthouse at 2201 Finch Ave. West in North York.  Although I had not been retained by any of those whom I assisted with bail on a pro-bono basis, I decided to head over to court to see what was happening.  I did some live tweeting (@aglawoffice) while I was there.

A few days prior I had been interviewed by phone by the Canadian Press and was subsequently quoted in an article which can be found here.  I’m the unnamed lawyer (which I’m a bit annoyed about) who was covered as follows:

One lawyer who represented a G20 accused at bail court said some of the defendants will be showing up to court Monday without lawyers.

“The feeling I’m getting is a lot of people are going to show up unrepresented because I guess there’s this belief out there that the Crown’s going to be dropping charges,” said the lawyer, who did not want to be named because he no longer represents that client.

He said others may not show up at all, which could lead to warrants issued for their arrests.

There wasn’t much going on outside the courthouse.  There were a number of people standing around as well as some media outlets, but it certainly wasn’t chaotic.  Inside the courthouse was a check-in desk at the front where accused persons would provide their name and were then given one of three courtrooms where they were to appear.  Those who were being offered diversion or whose charges were to be withdrawn were sent to one specific courtroom.  The other two appeared to be split-up based on whether the accused was an anglophone or francophone.  These three courtrooms were presided over by Justices of the Peace.  There was a fourth courtroom upstairs presided over by Madame Justice Tuck-Jackson which was set-up to for guilty pleas and to order peace bonds on those prepared to enter into them.  I did not hear of anyone entering a guilty plea.

The Crown office responsible for prosecuting G20 matters was the “Guns & Gangs” unit.  While most of these charges don’t resemble anything to do with guns or gangs, the unique nature of the G20 made this assignment proper as opposed to assigning the matters to a Crown Attorney’s office based on geography.

A number of accuseds had their charges outright withdrawn.  This was obviously the best result.  One gentleman whom I had helped with bail was fortunate in this regard.  What was frustrating however was that, at the bail stage, the Crown had initially sought his detention (they eventually consented once I called evidence from the surety).  I doubt the Crown had received any more details of the investigation against this gentleman in the time since the G20, which made me wonder why they couldn’t withdraw when he was first arrested.  That said, I do understand that the political ramifications were much different during the actual event and do appreciate the reasonableness in making the appropriate decision to withdraw the charge.

Many others were not as fortunate to be offered an outright withdrawal.  In a large number of cases the Crown was willing to withdraw but only if the accused completed some form of “diversion” program.  Typically diversion is offered for less-serious first-time offenders for offences such as theft, possession of marijuana, and solicitation, and may involve an education program, a charitable donation, community service, etc.  Here the Crowns were generally asking for a small donation ($50-100) to a charity of choice or a small number of community service hours.  Once this was completed (donations could be done on the same day) the charges would be withdrawn.  There was some irony in this in that those offered diversion could donate their time or money to organizations that were involved in the G20 protests, provided of course they had some legitimacy.

While many saw the benefits of accepting diversion and putting the matters behind them, many others did not find this acceptable and wanted to properly review the evidence against them.  The problem with this is that these individuals are taking a risk that the Crown will withdraw their diversion offer and attempt to prosecute the case against them.  I observed one individual from Montreal ask for his disclosure (which wasn’t available) who was then told the diversion offer was only on the table for 30 more days, and that the Crown could not guarantee disclosure would even be available by that point.

Those facing more serious charges were given court dates in October to return for another administrative appearance (the 17 alleged conspirators received a September date).  In most cases little, if any, disclosure was provided.  For those from Quebec (many of whom arrived together by bus) this involves another trip to Toronto.  There is of course no guarantee that disclosure will be ready by that date either – and it certainly will not be complete (I expect defence counsel to make some very thorough disclosure requests that will likely be opposed by the Crown and have to be litigated before a Judge).

All in all I would describe the first appearance as somewhat of an organized chaos.  Things were noticeably less politically-charged than they were during the bail process.  Those charged seemed to fit into one of two camps, those that just wanted to move on and make the best choice for their own individual legal interests and those that were considering political ramifications (including involvement in proposed civil suits) of their decisions.  As time passes and the slow-moving administrative process continues, it’ll be interesting to see if those who fall into the second camp will migrate over to the first.  Another more interesting issue to watch is whether the Crown starts offering diversion or outright withdrawals to more and more individuals.  The big question is how many of these matters will actually proceed to trial.  I predict very few.

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