For more than a month now, Ontario Coalition Against Poverty (OCAP) organizers John Clarke, Gaetan Heroux and Stefan Pilipa have been sitting in a second-floor University Avenue courtroom listening to a string of police witnesses.One after another, aggrieved officers have trailed up to the stand to deliver accounts of the three activists' involvement in the infamous June 15 clash, nearly three years ago, between police and protestors on the lawn of Queen's Park. Clarke is on trial for counselling to participate in a riot and counselling to assault a police officer. He faces up to four years in prison if convicted. Heroux and Pilipa face lesser charges of participating in a riot -- and two years each behind bars if they're convicted.
But despite the Crown's success in proving, via endless videos, that cops faced projectiles and angry punches from demonstrators, there seems little specific evidence against the accused as the prosecution wraps up its case this week.
Certainly, testimony suggests the police were having a terrible day.
"The crowd began to attack the police officers, completely unprovoked," was the version offered by Toronto police Inspector Joseph Tomei.
Sergeant Brian Smith, who claims he was pulled down as he attempted a charge or "punch-out" on the crowd, testifies that the whole experience "was one of the most traumatic in my police career. The demonstrators were right on our heels -- a barrage of sticks, rocks, everything. Every time a police officer was hit that day, the crowd was happy," he says.
"If it wasn't for the horses," adds Sergeant Alan Bell during his testimony,"we would have been overrun."
Throughout the recitation of these bitter complaints, OCAP supporters in the court have maintained an intent silence except when they recognize themselves in the video sequences or gasp at scenes of police beating demonstrators. The jury, made up mostly of women and people of colour, is harder to read save for the occasional yawn.
Sergeant Smith testified that he recognized Heroux as the man who tackled him, from "the facial structure around the eyes. His face was just embedded in my mind." However, he could not say for sure when pressed under cross-examination if Heroux had actually knocked him over or simply fallen onto him in the confusion.
The charges against Clarke are a little more complicated. They stem mostly from a speech he made on camera that day after police told him government representatives would not come out to address protestors.
On the tape, Clarke is seen urging the crowd "to advance forward and make our point heard."
Defence lawyers insist that a riot, defined in the Criminal Code as "an unlawful assembly... begun to disturb the peace tumultuously," did not happen -- or if it did it was the police who provoked it.
There certainly was some testimony supporting such a claim.
Under cross-examination, police have conceded that they made little attempt to communicate with the crowd or de-escalate the situation before aggressively advancing to "neutralize" it. They did not unfurl warning banners they had at their disposal.
When he was shown a video of cops batoning one protestor, Detective Sergeant Richard Stubbings, acknowledged that some of the police's actions "might" warrant investigation.
Where Clarke is concerned, the case could get profoundly interesting. His lawyer, Peter Rosenthal, has decided to put him on the stand when the defence begins making its case this week, a move that will also make the fiery orator available to cross-examination by the Crown. One of Clarke's challenges will be overcoming his in-your-face public persona, which made jury selection a delicate piece of choreography.
It'll be the defence's contention that the three have been singled out because they are known OCAP organizers.
One would have to go back decades, the defence points out, to find the last time anyone was charged with participating in a riot -- a charge that could have a chilling effect on the right to demonstrate.
The best comparison might actually be the aftermath of the 1837 Rebellion. Then, a handful of people rather dubiously labelled as leaders in the attempt to overthrow the Tory government of the day were charged.
Outside the courtroom, Clarke, Heroux and Pilipa put on a brave face and tell me they're prepared to go to jail if they have to. Heroux predicts a harsh reaction from low-income communities who've joined OCAP if that happens. "I'd like to see the kind of response at Dundas and Sherbourne," he says, defiant as ever.