Letter from G20 conspiracy case defendants: Regarding Our Plea Deal

from conspire to resist:

November 22, 2011 — As people across Turtle Island look towards the global wave of protests against the austerity agenda, the memory of the 2010 G20 protests in Toronto looms large as both inspiration and caution. We are seventeen people accused by the state of planning to disrupt the leaders summit – the prosecutors call us the G20 Main Conspiracy Group.

This alleged conspiracy is absurd. We were never all part of any one group, we didn’t all organize together, and our political backgrounds are all different. Some of us met for the first time in jail. What we do have in common is that we, like many others, are passionate about creating communities of resistance.

Separately and together, we work with movements against colonialism, capitalism, borders, patriarchy, white supremacy, ableism, hetero/cis-normativity, and environmental destruction. These are movements for radical change, and they represent real alternatives to existing power structures. It is for this reason that we were targeted by the state.

Although these conspiracy charges have been a big part of our daily reality for the past year and a half, we have been slow in speaking out collectively. This is partly because of the restrictive bail conditions that were placed on us, including non-association with our co-accused and many of our close allies. In addition, those of us who did speak out have been subjected to a campaign of intimidation and harassment by the police and prosecutors.  We are writing now because we have negotiated a plea deal to resolve our charges and to bring this spectacle to an end.

The state’s strategy after the G20 has been to cast a wide net over those who mobilized against the summit (over 1, 000 detained and over 300 charged) and then to single out those they perceived to be leaders. Being accused of conspiracy is a surreal, bureaucratic nightmare that few political organizers have experienced in this country, but unfortunately it is becoming more common. We can’t say with any certainty if what we did was in fact an illegal conspiracy. Ultimately though, whether or not our organizing fits into the hypocritical and oppressive confines of the law isn’t what’s important. This is a political prosecution. The government made a political decision to spend millions of dollars to surveil and infiltrate anarchist, Indigenous solidarity, and migrant justice organizing over several years. After that kind of investment, what sort of justice are we to expect?

We have not been powerless in this process; however any leverage we’ve had has not come from the legal system, but from making decisions collectively. This has been a priority throughout, particularly in the last several months, as the preliminary inquiry gradually took a back seat to negotiations for a deal to end it. The consensus process has been at times a heart-wrenching, thoughtful, gruelling, disappointing, and inspiring experience, and in the end, we got through it together.

Of the seventeen of us, six will be pleading and the eleven others will have their charges withdrawn. Alex Hundert, and Mandy Hiscocks are each pleading to one count of counselling mischief over $5,000 and one count of counselling to obstruct police, and Leah Henderson, Peter Hopperton, Erik Lankin, and Adam Lewis are each pleading to a single count of counselling mischief over $5,000. We are expecting sentences to range between 6 and 24 months, and all will get some credit for time already served in jail and on house arrest.

Three defendants in this case had their charges withdrawn earlier and one has already taken a plea to counselling mischief over $5,000 that involved no further jail time. This means that out of twenty-one people in the supposed G20 Main Conspiracy Group, only seven were convicted of anything, and none were convicted of conspiracy. The total of fourteen withdrawals demonstrates the tenuous nature of the charges.

This system targets many groups of people including racialized, impoverished and Indigenous communities, those with precarious immigration status, and those dealing with mental health and addiction.  The kinds of violence that we have experienced, such as the pre-dawn raids, the strip-searches, the surveillance, and pre-sentence incarceration happen all the time.  The seventeen of us have moved through the legal system with a lot of privilege and support.  This includes greater access to “acceptable” sureties, and the financial means to support ourselves and our case.  While the use of conspiracy charges against such a large group of political organizers is noteworthy, these tactics of repression are used against other targeted communities every day.

There is no victory in the courts. The legal system is and always has been  a political tool used against groups deemed undesirable or who refuse to co-operate with the state. It exists to protect Canada’s colonial and capitalist social structure. It is also deeply individualistic and expensive. This system is designed to break up communities and turn friends against each other.

Within this winless situation, we decided that the best course of action was to clearly identify our goals and needs and then to explore our options. Within our group, we faced different levels of risk if convicted, and so we began with the agreement that our top priority was to avoid any deportations. Other key goals we reached were to minimize the number of convictions, to honour people’s individual needs, and to be mindful of how our decisions affect our broader movements. Although we are giving up some important things by not going to trial, this deal achieves specific goals that we weren’t willing to gamble.

Our conversations have always been advised by concern for the broader political impacts of our choices. One noteworthy outcome is that there are no conspiracy convictions emerging from this case, thus avoiding the creation of a dangerous legal precedent that would in effect criminalize routine tasks like facilitation. Taking this deal also frees up community resources that have been embroiled in this legal process.

We emerge from this united and in solidarity.

To those who took us in while on house arrest, to those who raised money for our legal and living expenses, to those who cooked food, wrote letters, offered rides and supported us politically and emotionally throughout, thank you.

To those in jail or still on charges from the anti-G20 protests, to political prisoners and prisoners in struggle, we are still with you.

To communities and neighbourhoods fighting back from Cairo to London, from Greece to Chile, in Occupied Turtle Island and beyond, see you in the streets.

from top-left: Pat Cadorette, Erik Lankin, Paul Sauder, Meghan Lankin, Bill Vandreil, Joanna Adamiak, Julia Kerr, David Prychitka, Alex Hundert, Monica Peters, Sterling Stutz, Leah Henderson, Adam Lewis, Mandy Hiscocks, Peter Hopperton, SK Hussan, Terrance Luscombe

If you would like to issue a solidarity statement, please email toronto.g20resist@gmail.com and let us know.

from the press:

In a joint submission entered in court today, six of the 17 so-called G20 ringleaders have pleaded guilty and the other 11 defendants are going free.

The six defendants pleaded guilty in a Finch Ave. courtroom this morning to the lesser charge of counseling to commit mischief over $5,000. Two of the defendants — Alex Hundert and Amanda Hiscocks — also pleaded guilty to counseling to obstruct police.

The other 11 defendants all had their charges withdrawn just before noon. All 17 were initially charged with conspiracy.

The Star reported Tuesday that the so-called G20 ringleaders struck a plea bargain with prosecutors after preliminary hearings were suspended in late September.

For the six who pleaded guilty, the agreed statement of facts read out in court this morning stated that it couldn’t be proven that any of their remarks leading up to the G20 contributed to property damage or obstruction of police during the summit riots.

The agreed statement also noted that none of the six actually took part in the riots.

After the charges were officially withdrawn, a statement was posted online in which the 17 collectively condemned the conspiracy charges.

“This alleged conspiracy is absurd,” the statement read. “We were never all part of any one group, we didn’t all organize together, and our political backgrounds are all different. Some of us met for the first time in jail. What we do have in common is that we, like many others, are passionate about creating communities of resistance.”

According to defence lawyer Howard Morton, the position now being taken by the Crown is “drastically different” from the one it took at bail hearings. His client, Joanna Adamiak, had her charge withdrawn as part of the plea deal.

“This was nothing more than an attempt to create a public image that these people are terrorists,” Morton said of the prosecution’s portrayal of the 17 activists and self-described anarchists.

“These people are anything but terrorists. I mean, I wonder if any of them would even survive anarchy.”

Among the six who pleaded guilty are the four arrested in pre-dawn raids hours before the G20 summit began on June 26, 2010: Alex Hundert, his then-partner Leah Henderson, Amanda Hiscocks and Peter Hopperton. Erik Lankin and Adam Lewis, both members of the anarchist group AW@L (Anti-War at Laurier), also pleaded guilty.

According to the agreed statement of facts, Hundert and Hiscocks will be given the longest prison terms of 13 ½ and 16 months, respectively. Both will be sentenced in January.

Hundert has already spent five months in pre-trial custody and another five months under house arrest. Hiscocks was in jail for one month and under house arrest for nine.

Hiscocks has spent the past few weeks preparing for jail by cleaning out her apartment and spending time with friends and family, she told the Star in an interview prior to today’s court appearance.

As an activist, she said she has long been prepared for the possibility that some day she may wind up behind bars.

“I know a lot of people who do this work end up in jail at some point,” Hiscocks said.

The arrests of the so-called G20 ringleaders in June 2010 were the culmination of a year-long investigation by two undercover officers and eight different police services.

At the June 26, 2010, court appearance for Hundert, Hiscocks, Henderson and Hopperton, Crown attorney Vincent Paris told the court he was overwhelmed by the volume of evidence collected on the alleged co-conspirators.

Prior to a publication ban prohibiting media from reporting trial evidence, Paris said a plan for violence was put into place over a series of meetings leading up to the G20 in June 2010. He said the group planned on hitting targets such as city hall, Metro Hall, Goldman Sachs, The Bay and various consulates.

As Paris spoke in court during the G20 summit, black-clad vandals were smashing their way across downtown Toronto and he linked the four defendants with the “action . . . happening now.”

According to York University law professor Alan Young, a conspiracy case is often tough to prosecute because it requires proof of an overt agreement between people who may be loosely connected.

Of the 1,118 people arrested during the G20, more than 140 were charged with conspiracy, including the 17 described as ringleaders. If the plea bargain goes through, at least 112 of those conspiracy charges will have been dropped.

The preliminary hearing for the 17 alleged co-conspirators began Sept. 12, but was suspended about a week later so the group could enter talks about a plea deal.

The group has since been embroiled in painstaking negotiations, a complicated and delicate process involving hours of handwringing and discussion amongst the multiple co-accused and their respective lawyers.

In an interview with the Star¸ Hiscocks said she was initially vehemently opposed to striking any deals with the Crown. The 37-year-old longtime activist said she disapproves of plea bargaining because she considers it a prosecutorial tactic for eliciting guilty pleas.

But, in the end, Hiscocks agreed a plea deal promised the best possible outcome for the most people in the group, she said.

“The justice system being what it is, we decided that we weren’t going to see justice by going through to the end,” Hiscocks said. “We feel like the most good we’re going to get from the system, for the people in this group, is going to be through this plea.”

Hiscocks said she believes the charges against her were “politically motivated” and the group has already been punished by a justice system that is supposed to presume innocence until proven guilty.

Over the past 15 months, the co-accused have been living either in jail, under house arrest or subject to restrictive bail conditions preventing them from doing the community work they devote their lives to, she said.

Everyone has also been prohibited from participating in “demonstrations,” a word that has been broadly interpreted by the courts. In September 2010, Hundert was arrested for breaching this bail condition after participating in a panel discussion at Ryerson University.

“The bail conditions were absolutely ridiculous,” Morton said. “I’ve had clients charged with manslaughter that had conditions that weren’t this bad.”

Many of the 17 are also buckling under the emotional and financial strain of a legal battle being waged at a snail’s pace, according to Hiscocks.

She said people have lost their jobs as a result of the ongoing case and two of the 17 who stand to have their charges dropped under the deal were ineligible for legal aid and face an overall legal cost of $150,000 each. Another co-accused, who would see his charge withdrawn as a part of the deal, said he faced deportation if convicted.

According to Morton, the case was unlikely to go to trial until next September at the earliest, more than two years after the charges were first laid. Some defendants who submitted guilty pleas under the deal will likely be out of jail and moving on with their lives before the trial would have started.

Young, an expert on the plea bargaining process, said both sides, the Crown and defence, have incentives to strike a deal.

“The Crown might perceive there are some weaknesses in the case, the defence might have some concerns about the claims they want to make,” he said. “So, ultimately, law of probabilities (says) your best outcome is to go into court with a joint submission.”

Plea deals also pinch the ballooning costs of a trial, he added. Morton, a former Crown attorney, estimates the investigation and prosecution has already cost upwards of $5 million.

But even when people see their charges dropped as a result of a plea deal, that does not mean they go unpunished, Young added.

“The reality is that the Crown still is victorious in the sense that it achieves some punitive response without necessarily getting a court ruling,” he said. “And it’s a very unforgiving process. It doesn’t say sorry and it doesn’t compensate you for any hardship you suffered.”

Adamiak said she has already spent 20 days in jail and $50,000 defending herself against charges that would now be dropped under the deal. The 30-year-old York University student said she has depleted her savings to pay for her defence.

“It’s quite angering to know that the state cast a very wide net at the G20 and a lot of people had to go through a lot, not just myself,” she said. “To me, that’s part of the reason why taking a deal to end the process quickly is what made sense . . . because the process was the punishment.”

Adamiak admits there were points along the negotiation process where she felt strongly the trial should proceed.

Ultimately, it was more important to end the process quickly so she and the others could return to their political work as soon as possible, she said.

“The use of charges is a fear tactic. It’s to make us fear being part of particular organizations, to have particular ideologies,” she said. “But, if anything, it’s made me just much more eager to get back to the things we were fighting for before.”

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