It took all of 30 seconds last week for senior attorney Paul Culver to announce that the Crown would be retrying OCAP organizer John Clarke for his part in the June 2000 anti-poverty protest at Queen's Park. Clarke faces charges of counselling a riot and counseling to assault police. Culver was not required to explain the highly anticipated decision - and he didn't, except to offer a pro forma "(If) there's a reasonable chance of conviction, it's in the public interest to proceed."
The Crown decided to drop charges of participating in a riot against two of Clarke's co-accused, Gaetan Heroux and Stefan Pilipa.
The stage is now set for a new chapter in what looks more and more like a politically motivated trial to silence Clarke. The first ended in a mistrial. "It's absurd to continue this prosecution," says Clarke's lawyer, Peter Rosenthal. "We would hope the public would demand that these charges be dropped."
Clarke's supporters, always primed for self-expression, left the courtroom and marched to the lobby of the Bay Street tower that houses the offices of Attorney General Norm Sterling. "Want another riot at Queen's Park? Fuck Norm Sterling! Free John Clarke!" some shouted.
Despite the amped-up rhetoric, the impromptu demo went off peacefully, although one protestor managed to get to the 11th floor, where Sterling's office is located. Clarke himself stayed outside heeding his bail conditions, which forbid participation in protests.
Across town, anti-poverty activists crashed a speech by Premier Ernie Eves at the University of Toronto.
But there are contradictions that Clarke and OCAP will need to sort out if they hope to broaden their current base of support. The most glaring - and one that prosecutors tried to seize on during the last trial - is OCAP's own reaction to the events of June 2000.
The organization and its lawyers have described the demo as a police-made disaster, in which plans for a militant but peaceful protest were ruined by police attacks as well as by overzealous and violent members of the crowd who threw cobblestones, rocks and a Molotov cocktail.
But they've also called it a proud day for OCAP, a day when the group stood up for itself and the poor and fought the government. Comments made to that effect by Heroux to television cameras were used against him at the original trial.
At a meeting two Sundays ago at the 519 Church Community Centre to mark the third anniversary of the riot, some of the same defiance was in evidence as OCAP activists hinted that more demonstrations like the one at Queen's Park might be in the works.
It seems the two-month-long trial that monopolized the organization's focus hasn't been enough to tone down its over-the-top rhetoric.
While it's good to see activists' energies aren't flagging (members demonstrated at provincial minister Jim Flaherty's lakeside-cruise meeting with billionaire American publisher Steve Forbes Tuesday (June 24), and its allies are busy defending a squat in Peterborough), it's time to ask the question: is OCAP ready to trade in some of its over-energetic language for the broad public pressure needed to keep its most articulate spokesperson from spending five years in prison?