[VIDEO] “there is a climate of criminalization of community organizers and activists” | a profile of Canadian activist legend Jaggi Singh

Prominent activist released on bail after G20 arrest

Jaggi Singh of ‘No One Is Illegal’ placed under house arrest

Gilbert Ndikubwayezu

Toronto — The Canadian Press

Monday, Jul. 12, 2010

A prominent activist was among two people granted bail Monday after being arrested in the G20 protests.

Jaggi Singh turned himself in to police on July 6, after an arrest warrant was issued for him following the demonstrations.

He was granted release with $85,000 bail Monday from three sureties, including Amir Khadir, a provincial politician with the Quebec Solidaire party.

“I make this gesture out of a sense of duty to help my fellow Quebecers,” Mr. Khadir said in a statement.

“The Quebec government has provided no assistance to its citizens who were targeted and arrested in Toronto, in some cases simply because they come from Quebec … It is therefore up to us to fulfill this duty of coming to their aid.”

Mr. Singh was placed under house arrest and must adhere to several other conditions, including travelling only for emergency medical care or legal affairs, no use of communication devices and having no contact with co-accused or members of the Southern Ontario Anarchist Resistance.

Mr. Singh’s lawyer, Peter Rosenthal, said he would consider seeking a bail review.

“The bail conditions that we agreed to are very restrictive,” he said outside court.

“But Mr. Singh agreed to those conditions because he wants to be out of custody, otherwise he would remain in custody.”

Patrick Cadorette was granted $47,000 bail Monday and will be subject to similar conditions as Mr. Singh. He was permitted to use a computer or laptop only for work or employment purposes under the supervision of his sureties.

About 20 people have been identified as part of a police investigation into activities of people planning violent G20 action.

They are facing charges including assaulting police officers, conspiracy to assault police officers and charges relating to property damage.

Six people have concluded their bail hearings and five of them have been released on bail.

Leila Pourtavaf, a friend of Mr. Singh and fellow activist, criticized the bail conditions outside court.

“I think that there is a climate of criminalization of community organizers and activists,” she said.

“I think the conditions are very exaggerated … Being under house arrest is just like an attempt to prevent community organizers from doing their day-to-day work.”

Mr. Singh is a spokesman for the Montreal branch of the immigrant rights group No One is Illegal, and has been a vocal presence at anti-capitalist protests for close to a decade.

More than 1,000 people were arrested during the G20 protests, which saw vandals smash windows and burn police cars.

Four alleged anarchists accused of having organizing roles are among those seeking bail.

Leah Henderson, Amanda Hiscocks, Peter Hopperton and Alex Hundert are alleged to be members of the Southern Ontario Anarchist Resistance, or SOAR.

Mr. Hupperton is scheduled to be in court Tuesday. Mr. Hundert and Ms. Henderson appear July 15, while Ms. Hiscocks is set to appear July 16.

Mr. Singh and Mr. Cadorette are scheduled to be back in court Aug. 23.

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Quebec City Protest Organizer Jaggi Singh Faces New Charges

Kevin Dougherty

Thursday, May 3, 2001

The prosecutor handling the case of activist Jaggi Singh, who is being held in jail on charges of possession of a teddy-bear-firing catapult, has indicated new charges will be laid against him today. Singh is the only one of more than 463 people arrested at demonstrations during the Summit of the Americas in Quebec City last month who was not released on bail. Singh, who is already accused of breaching bail conditions imposed after he was charged with involvement in a demonstration in Westmount, is to appear in a Quebec City courtroom today, when the date of his preliminary hearing will be set.

Pascal Lescarbeau, a court-appointed lawyer helping Singh defend himself, said yesterday the Crown told him new charges, probably related to the conditions of Singh’s release on charges arising from another demonstration in Montreal against a meeting of the G20 group of finance ministers, would be laid today. Singh argued at his bail hearing that the Westmount conditions only prohibited him from participating in violent demonstrations in Westmount. He also said that he left an anti-summit demonstration that began peacefully when it turned violent.

Toronto activist and broadcaster Judy Rebick testified at Singh’s bail hearing last week that Singh had nothing to do with a catapult designed to shoot teddy bears and confetti in a satirical protest against the 3.8-kilometre perimeter fence around summit venues.

She also said that Singh told demonstrators to withdraw when the protest turned violent but Quebec Court Judge Yvon Mercier misinterpreted Rebick’s testimony in ordering him held in prison until his trail, saying erroneously that Rebick heard Singh tell the demonstrators to advance.

Singh was arrested away from the protest site by undercover police, who smashed him in the ribs with a billy club as they hustled him into an unmarked van.

Rebick is organizing a petition campaign and has support from former federal NDP leader Ed Broadbent, Canadian Union of Public Employees president Judy D’Arcy, former Canadian ambassador to the United Nations Stephen Lewis and others calling for the release of Singh.

Yesterday Guy Dubord, spokesman for the group behind the satirical catapult, said that at least 30 teddy bears, “imprisoned in bird cages so they do not represent a public danger,” have been turned in at police stations across Canada, along with signed confessions, taking credit for the catapult away from Singh.

And in Ottawa yesterday, House of Commons security staff expelled two activists who threw teddy bears on to the floor of Parliament.

Dubord said from Edmonton yesterday that his group is now calling on prison authorities to grant Singh conjugal visits. “That’s a basic human right,” said Dubord, who describes himself as an academic anarchist.

“Other people have claimed responsibility (for the catapult) and he is being denied conjugal visits,” he added. “It’s outrageous!”

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Even the Green Zone Wasn’t a Safe Haven

Naomi Klein

April 21, 2001

QUEBEC — Where are you,” I screamed from my cellphone into his. There was a pause and then, “A Green Zone — St. Jean and St. Claire.”Green Zone is protest speak for an area free of tear gas or police clashes. There are no fences to storm, only sanctioned marches. Green Zones are safe, you’re supposed to be able to bring your kids to them. “Okay,” I said. “See you in 15 minutes.”

I had barely put on my coat when I got another call: “Jaggi’s been arrested. Well, not exactly arrested. More like kidnapped.” My first thought was that it was my fault: I had asked Mr. Singh to tell me his whereabouts over a cellphone. Our call must have been monitored, that’s how they found him.

If that sounds paranoid, welcome to Summit City.

Less than an hour later, at the Comité Populaire St-Jean Baptiste community centre, a group of six swollen-eyed eyewitnesses read me their hand-written accounts of how the most visible organizer of yesterday’s direct action protest against the free-trade area of the Americas was snatched from under their noses. All say Mr. Singh was standing around talking to friends, urging them to move further away from the breached security fence. They all say he was trying to de-escalate the police standoff.

“He said it was getting too tense,” said Mike Staudenmaier, a U.S. activist who was talking to Mr. Singh when he was grabbed from behind, then surrounded by three large men.

“They were dressed like activists,” said Helen Nazon, a 23-year-old from Quebec City, with hooded sweatshirts, bandannas on their faces, flannel shirts, a little grubby. “They pushed Jaggi on the ground and kicked him. It was really violent.”

“Then they dragged him off,” said Michele Luellen. All the witnesses told me that when Mr. Singh’s friends closed in to try to rescue him, the men dressed as activists pulled out long batons, beat back the crowd and identified themselves: “Police!” they shouted. Then they threw him into a beige van and drove off. Several of the young activists have open cuts where they were hit.

Three hours after Mr. Singh’s arrest, there was still no word of where he was being held.

Throwing activists into unmarked cars and nabbing them off streets is not supposed to happen in Canada. The strange thing is that, in Jaggi Singh’s short career as an antiglobalization activist, it has happened to him before — during the 1997 protests against the Asia-Pacific Economic Co-operation summit.

The day before the protests took place, Mr. Singh was grabbed by two plainclothes police officers while walking alone on the University of British Columbia campus, thrown to the ground, then stuffed into an unmarked car.

The charge, he later found out, was assault. Mr. Singh had apparently talked so loudly into a megaphone some weeks before that it had hurt the eardrum of a nearby police officer.

The charge, of course, was later dropped, but the point was clearly to have Mr. Singh behind bars during the protest, just as he will no doubt be in custody for today’s march. He faced a similar arrest at the G-20 summit in Montreal.

In all of these bizarre cases, Jaggi Singh has never been accused of vandalism, of planning or plotting violent actions. Anyone who has seen him at the barricades, crumbling or otherwise, knows that his greatest crime is giving good speeches.

That’s why I was on the phone with Mr. Singh minutes before his arrest — trying to persuade him to come to the Peoples’ Summit teach-in that I was co-hosting to tell the crowd of 1,500 what was going on in the streets.

He had agreed, but then determined it was too difficult to cross the city.

I can’t help thinking the fact that this young man has been treated as a terrorist, repeatedly and with no evidence, might have something to do with his brown skin, and the fact that his last name is Singh. No wonder his friends say that this supposed threat to the state doesn’t like to walk alone at night.

After collecting all the witness statements, the small crowd begins to leave the community centre to attend a late-night planning meeting. In an instant, the halls are filled with red-faced people, their eyes streaming with tears, frantically looking for running water.

The tear gas has filled the street outside the centre, and has entered the corridors. “This is no longer a Green zone! Les flics (the police) s’en viennent!” So much for making it to my laptop at the hotel.

Denis Belanger, who was kind enough to let me use the community centre’s rickety PC to write this column, notices that the message light is flashing on the phone. It turns out that the police have closed in the entire area, no one is getting out.

“Maybe I’ll spend the night,” Mr. Belanger said. Maybe I will too.

Author and activist Naomi Klein’s column appears Wednesdays on The Globe’s Comment pages.

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An Articulate Anarchist:

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Jaggi Singh (born in 1971 in Toronto, Canada) is one of Canada’s most high-profile anti-globalization and social justice activists. He is an anarchist. Singh lives in Montreal where he works with groups such as Solidarity Across Borders (a local migrant-rights organization) and the No One Is Illegal collective, among others. Singh graduated from St. Michael’s College School and attended the University of Toronto. He also attended the University of British Columbia.

1997 APEC summit

Singh first came into the public spotlight during the protests outside the 1997 APEC conference held in Vancouver. According to Canadian Member of Parliament, Svend Robinson, the day before the summit started: “Jaggi Singh, one of the organizers of the APEC alert … [was] arrested, wrestled to the ground on the UBC campus by three plainclothes police officers, handcuffed, thrown in the back of an unmarked car with tinted glass, driven off and locked up during the APEC summit.”  Singh was charged with assault after allegedly yelling into the ear of a campus security guard with a megaphone and spent the duration of the conference in jail. In February 1999, the assault charge was dropped by Crown prosecutors before going to trial.

Singh was one of 51 people to file a complaint against the conduct of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) at the APEC summit that sparked a formal investigation by the Commission for Public Complaints Against the RCMP. In March 2000, he was one of three people to formally withdraw from the inquiry, alleging that Prime Minister Jean Chrétien’s rejection of an invitation to testify before the Commission was proof that the process was flawed.

In one of the findings condemning RCMP behavior issued in the final report by the Commission, it was noted that: “Mr. Jaggi Singh was arrested on a warrant based on a spurious charge; the manner of his arrest was inappropriate in the circumstances; the timing of the arrest was calculated to prevent him from attending protests on November 25; the bail conditions sought were overly restrictive.”

G-20 & the Quebec City Summit of the Americas

Singh continued to attend Canadian rallies and protests, and continued to face arrests. In October 2000, he was arrested at a G-20 protest in Montreal, and charged with “participation in a riot”, and illegal assembly and mischief. Police claimed that Jaggi’s speech against the International Monetary Fund incited the crowd, and that he announced the availability of medical help while riot police were charging at the crowd. In April 2003, he was acquitted of the riot charges.

Singh gained widespread notoriety as the longest-detained demonstrator arrested by police at the Quebec City Summit of the Americas.[8] Witnesses reported that, “he was grabbed from behind by police masquerading as protesters” and “dragged away in a beige van” . Singh was held for a total of 17 days, and charged with breaking conditions from previous arrests and with weapons charges – for a mock catapult that launched teddy bears that was actually constructed and operated by an unrelated group from Edmonton.

During his imprisonment, “Free Jaggi Singh” protests took place in Montreal, and as far away as the Czech Republic, France, Germany and the United States.  He was released on $3,000 bail with conditions that prohibited him from leading or organizing any demonstrations or using a megaphone.

In a telephone interview conducted while he was in the Orsainville jail near Quebec, Singh explained his view that legal action against him and other political activists was designed to intimidate them into silence, and split them off from mainstream public opinion:

“Everybody is an idealist. Everybody has this idea that things should be better and that’s really a non-ideological thing. The fear is that those idealists will become radicals and start questioning the roots of the system, start questioning the power structure. People in power don’t like that. You have to turn these idealists into realists, because once they’re realists, they can accept the compromises that opportunists make; those being the politicians.

And how do you turn an idealist into a realist instead of a radical? Well, a baton blow to the head is one way. Getting wafts of tear gas is another. Yet another is making the radicals seem crazy and criminal. Give the distinct impression through the media that you will be jailed. You will be treated differently and it’s not worth the trouble. As long as idealists stay that way, or even better become realists or opportunists, that’s great.”

During the lengthy pre-trial process, the weapons charge was dropped, and Singh’s request in November 2003 for a stay of proceedings based on “unreasonable delay and abuse of process,” was accepted two months before the case would have gone to trial in January 2004. In his ruling, Judge Beaulieu of the Quebec Superior Court agreed with Singh’s position that: “… the bail conditions imposed on May 2001 have restrained his right to freedom, opinion, expression and the right of freedom of association as protected by article 2 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.”

Pro-Palestinian activism

Singh is also known for his pro-Palestinian activism and for organizing protests in and around Montreal.

On September 9, 2002, he was present at a protest against a speech by former Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu which was to be presented by the pro-Israel Hillel club at Concordia University, with support from the Asper Foundation.[14] The talk was canceled when confrontations between protestors, police and security agents became violent, resulting in widespread coverage in the media, including an article in The Globe and Mail written by Singh himself.

In January 2003, Singh was deported by Israeli authorities after having gone to the West Bank on an invitation from the International Solidarity Movement. He had initially been denied entrance to the country upon his arrival in December 2002, but fought the decision in court. Though he won the right to stay for three weeks, he was barred from visiting the West Bank.[16] Singh refused to abide by the order and made public his reasons for doing so, writing: “It’s not for an occupying power to decide who can or can’t enter Palestine… I’ve decided then to ignore the Israeli security services and listen to the Palestinian activists. It was an easy choice to make.”  On January 8, 2003, Singh was nabbed by undercover police officers in Jerusalem. He was held at the Russian Compound and then the Maasiyahu Prison, before being deported back to Canada.

On January 20, 2003, Singh was to speak at a demonstration in support of students facing disciplinary charges for the September 9 protest against Netanyahu. He was arrested on university campus by police and charged with illegal assembly, obstruction, mischief, assault, conspiracy and breaking prior conditions, for the September 9 protest.

All five charges against Singh were dismissed by December 2005. Singh mounted his own defense and filed an abuse of process motion after the prosecution failed to disclose more than 30 unedited videos taken by surveillance cameras the day of the protest. He put it to the court that the videos showed inconsistencies with the evidence given by security guards and supported his version of events.[21] In his ruling, Montreal Municipal Court Judge Pierre Fontaine wrote that the Concordia University Administration had exhibited “gross negligence” that amounted to a “flagrant violation” of Singh’s right to a fair trial. The dismissal of the charges at that time meant that Singh enjoyed his first totally clean judicial record in years.

The Crown successfully appealed Judge Fontaine’s decision and the charges were reinstated. In his judgement[22] rendered on August 23, 2006, Superior Court of Quebec Judge James Brunton wrote: “I agree that the trial judge erred when he held that officials of Concordia University were grossly negligent in not volunteering the production of the videocassettes before receiving a subpoena duces tecum during the motion hearing. My reading of the transcripts leads me to the exact opposite conclusion. Officials of Concordia were exemplary in their co-operation with the prosecution and the Court. They were exemplary in their dealings with the Respondent during the hearing of the motion.”

On April 19, 2006, Singh was attending a pro-Palestinian poetry-reading/music fundraising event,[23] organized by Sumoud[24] at the El Salon cafe, when he was arrested by Montreal police.  Reports conflict as to what happened exactly. Police say they were responding to an allegation of assault reported by a “taxi driver” outside the cafe. They say they attempted to question Singh about the alleged assault and pursued him inside the cafe to do so, but that many of the 70 people in attendance attempted to obstruct them. Singh says the man who police say was a “taxi driver” was wearing a suit and driving an unmarked SUV. He says that the man pushed him after Singh asked him what he was doing parked on the side of the road wearing an earpiece. Police ended up charging Singh and one other person with obstruction, and three others were given municipal fines.

Media portrayal in United States

In 2004, the New York Daily News drew reference to Singh in an article about protesters against the Republican National Convention. The article incorrectly spoke of Singh being Muslim (he was born to a Sikh father and Catholic mother), prone to violence, that he was proficient in firearms and received training from Kazi Toure (he has never met Kazi Toure or received any firearms training), and that the teddy-bear launching catapult of the Quebec Summit of the Americas had instead launched molotov cocktails.[26] At the same time, the New York Post published a photo of someone they alleged to be Singh shooting off a handgun. A friend of his who saw the picture noted: “It is some brown guy with high cheekbones and a Harry Potter haircut, but it’s not Jaggi.”

Singh does not readily throw himself into the spotlight due to an awareness of how the media likes to develop cults of personality: “I didn’t choose to be covered in the way I have been. I’ve said no to interviews far more often than I’ve said yes.”  In 2001, when the CBC’s The Fifth Estate aired a documentary profile of Singh, it was difficult to get his cooperation. Anna Maria Tremonti, the show’s host, noted that “Often, people clamour to get in front of a microphone. But Jaggi didn’t clamour.”

Singh does acknowledge that not all his dealings with the media have been bad: “There are some journalists who are willing to take time on a story. That doesn’t mean days, it just means making a couple of calls and getting all the background information so the story is not exploitative.”

He was interviewed and included in the PBS documentary # Commanding Heights: about the global political economy. Of free trade agreements, like NAFTA, he says: “We are not here to negotiate the terms of our own misery.”

Other activism

Civil liberties & Montreal Police tactics

Singh provided an “activist arrest and trial calendar” to the United Nations International Convenant on Civil and Political Rights in support of a complaint filed by La Ligue des droits et libertés, outlining heavy-handed Montreal police tactics that had resulted in 2,000 arrests between 1999 and 2004. In November 2005, the UN body’s report singled out Montreal police for the disproporionate use of mass arrests, stating: “The State party should ensure that the right of persons to peacefully participate in social protests is respected, and ensure that only those committing criminal offences during demonstrations are arrested … The Committee also invites the State party to conduct an inquiry into the practices of the Montreal police forces during demonstrations, and wishes to receive more detail about the practical implementation of article 63 of the Criminal Code relating to unlawful assembly.” Singh cited the results of the report as a vindication for Montreal activists: “The report validates what protesters have been saying about these protests, that these mass arrests are essentially a tactic by Montreal police to prevent by fear the involvement of young people who take to the streets in protest.”

Migrant rights advocacy

In talks he has given at Concordia University and McGill University in Montreal, Singh has outlined the links between global apartheid and the work of groups like No One Is Illegal towards protecting the rights of refugee claimants in Canada and migrants around the world. He has said that, “You can’t define human beings as illegal, as exploitable [or] as non-status.” He has also criticized the high bar for refugee status in Canada saying that, “You have to prove that there is a gun to your head or there will be a gun to your head,” in order to be allowed to stay.

Singh also took part in a protest of Immigration Minister Monte Solberg’s speech at the annual meeting of Citizens for Public Justice in 2006, demanding a moratorium on all deportations of refugees. He was one of about a dozen protestors whose presence was cited as a disruption of the event, and which resulted in Solberg cancelling his speech and leaving the hall.[30]

Singh currently produces No One Is Illegal Radio, which is broadcasted on CKUT and podcasted by the A-Infos Radio Project.

Protesting Canadian involvement in the War in Afghanistan

On November 24, 2006, Singh was arrested yet again and charged with violating earlier bail conditions for taking part in a 15-person protest against Canadian involvement in the war on Afghanistan at a press conference convened by Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper at the Montreal General Hospital.[31]

The arresting officer’s report stated that the RCMP asked Singh to leave based on his reputation as a political dissident and that he was arrested for refusing to leave after being asked to by hospital security.

At the bail hearing, the prosecution argued for denial of bail on the basis that Singh’s history of arrests made it likely that he would re-offend.[31] In his defense, Singh stated that, “I was targeted not for what I did, but for my reputation,” and further pointed out that he had won five of the six cases previously brought against him.

Singh also submitted that, “Standing up and asking a question is not illegal. Standing up and challenging the Prime Minister’s policies is not illegal.”

Municipal Court Judge Pascal Pillarella ruled that Singh had not actually violated the conditions of his earlier bail and should not have to spend months in jail awaiting trial. Singh was released on $2000 bail, and his trial for charges including obstruction and assault was scheduled for May 2007.

A 3-day trial was held, during which testimony was heard from RCMP and Montreal police officers, as well as hospital security. Representing himself, Singh did not testify. On December 4, 2007, he was convicted of obstructing a police officer in the execution of his duties, as well as breaching court-imposed conditions.  Municipal Court Judge Morton Minc later sentenced him to a total of $1000 in fines, plus costs. In his judgment, the judge mentioned among other things Singh’s prior convictions, the fact that Singh had shown a total lack of respect for the security forces, and the fact that the offence was committed in a hospital during a conference about cancer, a subject that deserves respect.

International Women’s Day 2007

On March 8, 2007, Singh attended a demonstration for International Women’s Day in Montreal where he was again arrested by police. He was held in jail for five days. At the bail hearing, police contended that Singh violated a bail condition prohibiting him from attending illegal or non-peaceful demonstrations. Several witnesses, including a Cégep professor and a medical resident at the Montreal Children’s Hospital, testified that the women’s day march had been peaceful. He was released on $1000 bail. The judge commented that the “hefty bond” might work to deter Singh’s activism.

A media alert sent out on the day of the march by a fellow demonstrator describes the particulars of Singh’s arrest as follows:

The police made an announcement asking people to walk on the sidewalk. Jaggi Singh, who had been one of many male supporters among the 200 strong celebrating international women’s day moved onto the sidewalk. The others continued marching in the street. Police officers began to rush towards Singh, still walking on the sidewalk. They grabbed him and threw him against a nearby police car. Other marchers gathered around the car out of concern for the violent way in which police were intervening. Police began hitting and pushing people indiscriminately. Several people were knocked to the ground with batons and night sticks … The police showed a total disregard for the injuries mounting around them. They placed Jaggi Singh in the police car and began to leave.

G-20 Toronto 2010

In June 2010, Singh participated in the protests during the G-20 Summit in Toronto. According to immigrant rights group No One is Illegal, Singh turned himself into Toronto police following the issuance of an arrest warrant. He was granted bail on July 12, after 10,000$ was paid by two sureties, one of which was the Québec provincial deputy Amir Khadir, from the Québec Solidaire Party. In addition to this bail, 75,000$ more, guarantied this time by Amir Khadir and two other people whose identity was not revealed, will be charged in case Singh breaks his release conditions, which are the following: house arrest at the home of one of the garantors; handing in his passport to the authorities; he must not use a cellular phone; he must not have any contacts with the 16 other activists charged with conspiracy in connection with the G20 protests.

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