My Day at the G20 Bail Courts

I’ve been meaning to start a blog for a while, so why not start with some of my observations from my day dealing with the G20 bail courts at 2201 Finch.

As part of a pro-bono initiative, I headed over to the courthouse at 2201 Finch Ave. West to assist those who had been charged as a result of the G20.  The courts have been operating for a few days from 2-9pm.  Today was my first day and, I would assume, the busiest thus far (since many who were arrested on Saturday and held for bail were not taken to court that same day).

My involvement today was meant to be in a professional capacity.  I don’t necessarily agree or disagree with many of the opinions held by those protesting.  I do however believe in one’s right to a fair trial before an independent and impartial tribunal, as well as the rest of our Charter rights, and my job as a criminal lawyer is to work to uphold those rights.  In that same vein, I don’t agree with crime, but I still defend those charges with criminal offences.

As a whole, the court itself ran extremely smoothly.  The staff, ranging from court officers, clerks, reporters, and office staff, were great to deal with and extraordinarily professional.  The judiciary was hardworking and helped move things along.  The Crowns were also extremely reasonable and, while we may have disagreed on certain points, were generally prepared to discuss and explain their point of view.  Legal Aid Ontario duty counsel worked hand in hand with the private defence bar as well.

Five courts were in operation:  four bail courts (two alpha courts; a court doing french and youth matters; and an assist/overflow court) presided over by Justices of the Peace; and a plea court presided over by Regional Senior Justice Bigelow (it is expected that Madam Justice Tuck-Jackson will be taking over this role tomorrow).

Those facing more minor charges (disturbing the peace, unlawful assembly) were released on consent, usually on their own recognizance, and given a return date in August.  In most cases a boundary condition was placed on these individuals to stay out of a certain area of Toronto as defined by certain streets until July 5, 2010.  I think many facing these charges were released, with or without conditions, from the Eastern Ave. Detention Centre.  They may have been sent to court for a number of reasons.

A live issue was that the Crown would oftentimes request a condition that an individual refrain from engaging in demonstrations (remember that breaching a condition could lead to an arrest and charge).  Many feel this condition is ultra vires (unconstitutional) and rely on a decision by Mr. Justice Grossi in R. v. Clarke [2000] O.J. No. 5738 where, at bail review, such a term was deleted and replaced with:

From now until the end of the current proceedings, each is prohibited from participating in demonstrations taking place in a public place or on public land unless said demonstration is peaceable and lawful. From now until the end of the current proceedings, if while participating in or being present at a demonstration which was peaceable and lawful, said demonstration becomes non-peaceable and/or unlawful, each must leave the premises immediately.

I only observed the matter being litigated a few times, and obviously each case is fact specific, so I will not identify which JPs/Judges went in which direction.  I had the issue come up once and was unsuccessful, but I also was picking my battle and didn’t really press the issue.

The Crown viewed certain charges as being more serious and would seek detention in such cases.  These included charges involving a weapon (which could include toys which resemble weapons; or work tools that could be used as weapons, etc.); anything involving an assault on police; and those who were believed to have been associated with the black-bloc.  As is the case in bail court, counsel relies on synopses provided by the police.  While we can request to cross-examine arresting officers, that could take days to set-up.  The usual practice is to agree for the synopses to be read-in but still try and use it to show problems in the case (for example, I may argue that the Crown will have difficulty proving at trial that a weapon meets the definition of a weapon in the Criminal Code).

In cases where the Crown sought detention, a contested bail-hearing would commence, provided defence was satisfied that there was a plan of release put forward that would satisfy the court.  Some of these hearings took place while others were remanded to later dates (meaning the accused would be sent to Maplehurst, a “real” detention centre).

Most courts were done around 9:30-10pm when it became apparent that no more wagons were coming from the detention centre.  I expect tomorrow to be just as busy.

The dynamics of the hallways were very interesting and much different than a typical day at 2201 Finch (which deals with provincial charges from Etobicoke as well as youth charges from Etobicoke and North York).  There were lots of families milling about, many of whom were unfamiliar with the court process.  Although things were very tame, there were some supporters of those arrested who would let up a cheer when someone was ultimately released.  There was some police presence, along with riot gear as well, but nothing transpired.  Generally speaking everyone was extremely respectful in the courtrooms themselves.

The opening of the courts into the evening was unprecedented (for the first time I said “Good evening, Your Worship), but the whole weekend has been unprecedented.  All in all though, I can say that it was a very good day for the criminal justice system and the judicial branch of government.  Next step for those relesed:  first appearances.

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3 Responses to “My Day at the G20 Bail Courts”

  1. Connie Crosby June 28, 2010 1:49 pm #

    Adam, thank you for your coverage here and on Twitter. It was an excellent counterpoint to the mainstream media on the weekend. I pointed the readers of Slaw.ca to this blog post: http://www.slaw.ca/2010/06/28/torontos-g20-protests-legal-process-for-detainees/

    Cheers,
    Connie Crosby

  2. Sara Ehrhardt June 29, 2010 11:45 am #

    Adam I’m trying to find out the status of detainees – how many have been processed, how many remain detained, how many are getting released without further process, and I can’t seem to find any official information.

    Am also wondering if funds have been established to help people during this time…any recommendations where people should go if they want to make contributions to help some of these people pay their legal bills or other expenses that may come up when you’re detained?

    Many thanks,
    -Sara

    • Adam Goodman June 29, 2010 12:16 pm #

      I will make a brief post now on the status of detainees. As for organizations, there are some out there, but I don’t know enough about them to comfortably reccommend any for you to donate too.

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