Prosecutors are threatening to quit a special eight-member team set up by
the provincial government to prosecute protesters arrested at the Summit of
the Americas this month.
They are objecting to what they claim is political interference with the
judiciary on the part of summit organizers.
One prosecutor has already left the team, and others are expected to follow.
Prosecutors say provincial Justice Minister Paul Begin has directed them to
delay all bail hearings of arrested protesters for the maximum three full
days allowed by law, as a way of keeping them off the street for the
duration of the summit, April 20-22.
"This is political interference, and we should not stand for it," said one
prosecutor who did not wish to be named. "It's a plan of battle to hold
them in jail. We will not accept these directives."
The Criminal Code allows bail hearings to be delayed for a maximum of three
"clear days" between the day of the arrest and the day of the hearing. This
means that protesters could find themselves behind bars for five days.
Normally, defendants are processed within 24 hours of their arrest. Often
they are released the same day from a police station with a promise to
appear in court.
The prosecutors also say they do not want to prosecute people who are
protesting against repressive governments represented at the summit.
The Quebec government has built a concrete and chain-link fence around a
large section of the Old City where the summit is to take place. About
25,000 protesters are expected to show up.
Jails have been cleared and thousands of police officers from the Montreal
Urban Community force, the RCMP and the Surete du Quebec are being brought
in for security.
Prosecutors say they have been told not to subpoena police as witnesses
during the week of the summit because they won't be available.
Prosecutors noted that the Criminal Code allows them to seek publication
bans on bail hearings. One prosecutor said he believes that after the five
days of incarceration, charges will simply be dropped in most cases.
He said the provincial government is just using the judiciary to keep
protesters off the streets.
Montreal prosecutors plan to make public within the next few days a letter
of solidarity with the protesters, one prosecutor said.
Prosecutors are negotiating with the province for better salary and working
Quebec prosecutors work in extremely difficult conditions. Most do not have
computers. Eighty-five prosecutors in Montreal share four secretaries.
While Begin, as justice minister, is paid $14,496 more than his Ontario
counterpart, Quebec prosecutors are paid about half as much as Ontario
Since The Gazette reported on the poor conditions last month, Begin has
promised to get the prosecutors computers. But he refuses to connect them
to the Internet because, he claims, it's too expensive. That means they
won't have access to online jurisprudence.
Prosecutors complain that they have no time to prepare files and have to
plea-bargain more than 90 per cent of their cases.
Summit of the Americas
Where: Quebec City
When: April 20-22
The purpose: More than 9,000 delegates from 34 countries in North, South
and Central America, members of the Organization of American States, will
meet as part of the continuing process of trying to unite the economies of
the Western Hemisphere -- except for Cuba's -- in a single free-trade
agreement, the Free Trade Area of the Americas.
The opposition: As many as 25,000 demonstrators are expected to descend
on Quebec City to protest against the FTAA, which they say will serve the
interests of richer countries and multinational corporations at the expense
of human rights, the environment and the poor.
Security: More than 6,000 police officers from across Canada will be on
duty during the summit, hoping to prevent the chaos and violence that have
marred similar meetings.
- 110 Trade Justice