Guilty for Being an Activist

On February 4, 2003, in Montreal's municipal court, anti-capitalist activist and postal worker, Manuel Almeida, 44, was found guilty of breaking his condition of release on a previous charge. Manuel will be sentenced in April. He is worried that the sentence might cost him his job, as well as restrict his ability to visit his extended family in Angola, from which he immigrated to Quebec more than two decades ago.

What is interesting about Manuel's case is that he hadn’t participated in any public demonstrations whatsoever. Manuel was charged with the offence after he was rounded up in a downtown park on April 26, 2002, in a preemptive mass arrest undertaken by Montreal's riot squad. Hundreds were detained before the planned demonstration could even begin. The police actions were roundly condemned by even very mainstream liberal civil rights groups.

People had gathered in a park to listen to music and share food in anticipation of a torchlight march (expected to attract at least 1000 protesters). The events were organized by the Anti-Capitalist Convergence (CLAC) in opposition to the G8 Labour Ministers' meeting taking place in Montreal at the same time. Manuel was serving food in the park, as a member of the CLAC Food Committee, and intended to clean up and leave before the march, to abide by his conditions of parole. Nonetheless, Manuel was caught up in the riot police dragnet and charged.

In announcing his verdict, the Montreal municipal court judge cited three dictionaries -- LeRobert, LaRousse, and the Oxford Canadian English Dictionary -- on their definitions of "demonstration". Based on the entries he read, the judge concluded that a gathering to listen to music and east food before a planned march was still a demonstration, and so Manuel was guilty.

What makes Manuel's case that much more absurd is that he has already been found not guilty in the original case that led to the imposition of the draconian "no-protest" conditions of parole in the first place. Manuel was arrested on September 29, 2001, after participating in an anti-IMF/World Bank protest in Montreal that joined with a pro-Palestinian demo at the American Consulate. At his trial on the charge, which took place more than a year later (after his arrest at mass roundup on April 2002), the judge decided that Manuel was not guilty due to lack of evidence.

Still, Manuel faces sentencing for breaking his falsely imposed conditions at the Montreal G8 protest. He also faces trial in Ottawa after being arrested at the Take the Capital protests against the G8 in July 2002, for breaching the very same “no protest” condition. Like so many targeted arrests in recent years, Manuel and Bertrand were arrested not so much for what they actually did, but because of who they are; that is, effective, tireless and dedicated political organizers. Throughout the Take the Capital protests in Ottawa, CLAC members were followed by various undercover and plainclothes security and police forces.

Manuel and Bertrand's arrests also contradict the dismissive stereotype of who participates in confrontational anti-capitalist protests. Manuel is the father of two teenage girls, while Bertrand is the father of two young boys. They are both involved and loving parents, and they also work full-time, Manuel as a postal worker and Bertrand as a community sector organizer. They're both tirelessly dedicated to their organizing efforts, more often-than-not behind-the-scenes, doing the thankless but necessary tasks that go into effective organizing. In essence, they were arrested because of who they are, not what they did--an increasingly common practice in the new “security conscious” Canada.

Jaggi Singh is a writer and activist who lives in Montreal.

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