Wielding a long wooden stick, Kelly Pflug-Back bashed in the windshield of a police van, the window of a clothing store and the screen of an ATM during riots against the G20 summit in Toronto nearly two years ago. At one point, she yelled at fellow protesters to “hurry” as they trashed the window of a mobile phone store, then directed them not to attack a nearby perfume shop: “Leave it alone,” a police officer quoted her as saying. “We only want big business.”
On Monday, a judge ruled at her sentencing hearing that this evidence showed the 23-year-old had, in a limited way, directed a handful of vandals during the summit.
Ms. Pflug-Back has pleaded guilty to seven counts of mischief over $5,000 and one count of wearing a disguise, but disputed prosecutors’ assertion she was a leader on the street that day. The issue could affect the type of sentence she receives when the hearing resumes in July.
The question of leadership has been central to the cases of many accused protest organizers. Police and Crown attorneys have argued some demonstrators were in charge, planning and directing the property destruction that broke out in downtown Toronto on June 26, 2010. But activists have maintained that, as anarchists who eschew hierarchy, no one was giving orders during the riot.
In Ms. Pflug-Back’s case, a plainclothes police officer testified the young woman seemed to be the “centre of attention” with some demonstrators.
“People would approach Ms. Pflug-Back, they would have a brief conversation, then the people who approached her would go off and break windows,” Detective-Constable Andrew Hassall told court.
He testified Ms. Pflug-Back told four or five people to “hurry” as they smashed a Bell store at College Park and that they subsequently “broke the windows in a swifter fashion.” Then, they looked at Ms. Pflug-Back as they stood outside the perfume store, Constable Hassal said, and she told them to move on.
In photos the officer took that day, Ms. Pflug-Back was dressed in black, with a hoodie pulled over her head and a bandanna on her face. She was identifiable, however, from a distinctive black tattoo on her hand and a studded silver belt with three skulls on the buckle.
“It’s apparent Ms. Pflug-Back was more than just a sheep. She was at the front of the pack, she was giving directions, she was leading,” said assistant Crown attorney Liz Nadeau. “Ms. Pflug-Back was one of the directing minds.”
Her defence lawyer, Steve Gehl, countered that in videos of the vandalism that day, Ms. Pflug-Back is seen joining in vandalism of shop windows and police vehicles that is already happening, not leading it.
“Not one second of those videos show her telling people what to do. Not one,” he said.
Mr. Justice John McMahon ultimately accepted the account of Constable Hassall, but ruled the incident at College Park was the only time Ms. Pflug-Back had given direction that day.
“The accused did provide a very limited leadership role to four or five individuals outside the Bell store,” he said.
Detective-Sergeant Gary Giroux, a veteran police investigator who lead the task force charged with tracking down vandals after the summit, hailed the ruling. Outside court, he said Ms. Pflug-Back was “near the top” among protesters responsible for committing the most property damage that day and exhorting others.
Her supporters packed the public gallery of the University Avenue courtroom, laughing occasionally during the hearing, while Ms. Pflug-Back smiled at them. As she left court, they shielded her face with an umbrella and blocked news photographers trying to take her picture.
Before the G20, Ms. Pflug-Back was already a high-profile activist in Guelph, Ont., a university town west of Toronto. She worked with a group that handed out free food on the streets, took part in the occupation of a piece of land in an attempt to thwart a developer from building an industrial park and disrupted an Olympic torch relay.
Court documents filed by Ms. Pflug-Back’s lawyer indicate that she has studied at Wilfrid Laurier University subsequent to her arrest and written poetry for several magazines and online publications. In letters, her parents are asking court to spare her a prison sentence so she can continue her education. Her uncle writes that she is “deeply remorseful for her actions” and will “never again break that law.”
The sentence will be handed down July 13.