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Supporters of protesters who face charges after the G20 outside a Toronto courthouse on July 6. (J.P. Moczulski/The Globe and Mail/J.P. Moczulski/The Globe and Mail)
Supporters of protesters who face charges after the G20 outside a Toronto courthouse on July 6. (J.P. Moczulski/The Globe and Mail/J.P. Moczulski/The Globe and Mail)

Christie Blatchford

'G17' defendants mostly white kids with good teeth Add to ...

In the finest tradition of the increasingly opaque Canadian justice system, the case against the G17 - as those charged with more serious offences stemming out of Toronto's riotous G20 weekend might be called - is beginning to unfold in a closed courtroom, under a publication ban and amid tight security.

The 17, including a group of four alleged leaders from the Southern Ontario Anarchist Resistance, are facing charges of conspiracy to commit mischief, conspiracy to assault police and conspiracy to obstruct police.

Montreal-based activist Jaggi Singh, 39, is the latest to join their numbers; he turned himself in to Toronto police early Tuesday and was seated in the body of the court, in handcuffs.

The conspiracy charges reflect the police and prosecutorial claim that the rampage of rioting in downtown Toronto over the last weekend in June wasn't the spontaneous outburst of idealistic youth whose passions overtook sense, but rather planned and deliberate destruction.

One of two accused people who had bail hearings last week, 20-year-old Sterling Stutz, was released on a $30,000 recognizance to the custody of her parents. The other, Erik R. Lankin, was detained in custody by Justice of the Peace Diane McAleer.

Tuesday marked the start of the bail hearings for the others.

In the fashion that is becoming the norm in Ontario - keeping the public and press as far away from the proceedings as possible - the accused conspirators were led to what looked like a row of old-fashioned glass phone booths along one side of the courtroom, and seated there, one per booth.

The only other people allowed in the room were their various lawyers, their proffered sureties and court security officers (11 of them by one lawyer's count).

Everyone else - families, friends, supporters and media - were shepherded to an adjacent room called a "viewing room".

There, the assembled crowd of 80 could watch fuzzy images on a giant screen from the courtroom right next door - complete with a small, close-up version of one or two of the accused people in a corner of the screen - and hear most, though not all, of what was said, not that it can be reported in any case.

It was like the real thing, only not. This is the vaunted "open courts principle" at work; the courts aren't open and the principle isn't worth squat.

The notion underlying the mandatory publication ban on bail hearings - Section 517 of the Criminal Code - is that accused persons, who are presumed innocent, should be protected from heinous publicity disseminated against them by the state, its agents and the scum of the press for fear of prejudicing their fair trials.

Such bans are supposed to be temporary, though in fact, given the stately pace of the judicial system in this country, they regularly endure for years.

Practically speaking, the bans also allow for publicity of another sort - defence lawyer and fan club spin, for instance - to go unanswered, with allegations of egregious police misconduct, even brutality, languishing in the air unchecked and unchallenged for years.

For instance, I think here of the Toronto 18, the group of young Muslim men arrested in 2006 and charged in two homegrown terror plots.

For four years, Torontonians were treated to their shrieks of innocence, claims of harassment and all manner of cruel treatment, yet when all was said and done and the tally complete last month, charges were dropped against seven at a fairly early stage, but all the rest - 11 of them - pleaded guilty or were convicted.

But back to the G17.

The Globe and Mail has learned, independent of what was said in court yesterday, that Toronto police had an undercover officer who infiltrated the group and who, with a judge's authority, recorded a critical planning meeting on June 25.

From the glimpses gained on the video screen and hallway conversations, the G17 for the most part appear to be the middle-class progeny of the middle-aged urban professional class of this country. They are, in other words, reasonably affluent, lucky, mostly white kids with good teeth.

Some are university students. Some still drive their parents' cars. Some of their parents have cottages.

Some of their friends in the courtroom are cut from that delicate yet entitled cloth so familiar to teachers who work in large Canadian cities.

Two young women, for instance, were aghast when a Toronto Star reporter wouldn't give up his seat so they could sit together. "I've got to do my job," the reporter said. "Your job? Your job?" one of the young women said. "There are people here whose friends are in jail!"

She was actually hyperventilating, and red in the face, she was so fraught.

Fortunately, someone else did give up their seat, and the two women were able to sit together, though frankly, it looked as though what they really wanted was a room; they were constantly stroking each other's hair, doing deep-breathing and clucking softly.

Imagine: In this country, a kid rousted in a riot and facing a mischief charge is deemed a freedom fighter akin to Nelson Mandela.

I actually spoke to one of the parents of one of the accused people. He had already visited his daughter in custody, he said; the guards were nice and so co-operative one had actually called him when there was a cancellation so he could get on the visitor's list. His kid was being well fed and cared for, he said.

He was reminded, he said, of a bit of wisdom someone gave him as he was on the cusp of fatherhood: "Being a parent is knowing how to do the job after the job needs to be done."

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