It's the third day of the second trial of John Clarke, the much-profiled organizer with the Ontario Coalition Against Poverty. There is no jury in room 2-8 of the Ontario Superior Court this Thursday, October 9, since the case is still in the pretrial motions phase. If Clarke's counsel can win a couple of the motions, it's possible that the trial proper will never have to start. Otherwise, there could be a repeat of the last debacle, which started in January and ended as a mistrial in May.
Clarke is on the witness stand in a blue T-shirt and jeans amid a flock of robed figures. Out of something like 45 people arrested for the charges resulting from the June 15, 2000, march on Queen's Park, Clarke is going into this one by himself.
It's now up to the Crown to prove that Clarke masterminded what is disputably called a riot (the previous jury couldn't agree whether June 15 was a riot or not).
Judge Spiegel, who thus far has been in the habit of interrupting everyone, puts a series of exasperated questions to Clarke about the executive structure (if any) of OCAP. Clarke clearly identifies it as effectively leaderless.
"Aren't you the leader?"
"I serve in an organizing capacity."
"No officer, no chairman?" Clarke explains that the organization is "collectively run," that decisions are voted on by the general membership. As a paid organizer he doesn't vote.
"There's no chiefs, only Indians," ventures Spiegel. He thinks better of the reference and rephrases. "Everybody's a 'comrade'?"
If there is visible proof of OCAP's collectiveness, it would be the large-scale protests and small-scale disruptions that went ahead during the past few years even though bail and/or probation conditions barred prominent members from associating with one another or attending demos. ***
Nonetheless, Clarke's face is front and centre on a poster with the black-line starkness of a Clash album cover that announces "Organizing on Trial: A Benefit and Support Night for John Clarke's Retrial." It's for an evening of speakers and T-shirt sales at the Tranzac Club that took place on October 7. Funds raised went to Clarke's lawyer, who's otherwise working pro bono. When Clarke is invited to say "a few words" before the screening of a video about June 15, he projects easily to the Tranzac without a microphone and earns a standing ovation.
Academic Bryan Palmer, author of Working Class Experience and one of speakers at Tuesday's benefit, cites various figures in recent history who were on trial for political acts. "Few of these ever had to be tried twice,' he says.
Peter Rosenthal, Clarke's counsel, notes with dismay that the Liberal swearing-in on October 21, including a new Attorney General, is "a little on the late side" to lobby for a stay of proceedings. Once the new jury members are in their chairs, only the judge can permit this action.
Clarke's bad news aside, after eight years of furious opposition, the PCs are gone and OCAP is the one left standing.
"It's a great honour to be here breathing Tory-free air with you," says the next speaker, Naomi Klein. "While we are in this little breathing space, before the Liberals actually come in and start screwing up, we should enjoy it. We should breathe deeply of that Tory defeat."
While others might be sighing with relief, OCAP is planning another squat for November 8 - two days before the Toronto mayoral vote.
Far from embracing the Grits' overtures of moderation and renewed humanism, OCAP members describe their approach to the new administration with terms like "secondary tactical level" and "wait and see."
The Tory defeat seems more coincidental than decisive to OCAP, who emptied the contents of Ernie Eves's Orangeville campaign office onto the street on September 29 in a symbolic eviction of the party.
"We're not going into a new regime because it was smashed - it just expired," says Clarke, who sets a very high threshold for social transitions. "If the Tories had been defeated by a general strike, any power that followed would have been on notice."