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A Toronto antipoverty crusader faces months in a Whitby jail after a Crown attorney labelled him a terrorist and a justice of the peace refused to grant him bail for fear he would take part in violent protests against the Ontario government.

John Clarke, one of the key organizers of the Ontario Coalition Against Poverty, has already spent two weeks in pretrial custody on charges of mischief and unlawful assembly for his alleged participation in the ransacking of Finance Minister Jim Flaherty's constituency office earlier this month.

Yesterday, Oshawa Crown attorney Cindy Johnston described the June 12 trashing of Mr. Flaherty's Whitby office as "an act of terrorism" and argued successfully that he should remain in jail to protect the public.

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Justice of the Peace Robert Harris refused to grant bail pending trial. "If Mr. Clarke is released there's a substantial likelihood he would commit further offences, including offences that would [pose]a danger to the public," Mr. Harris said.

Mr. Clarke is among 19 OCAP members charged with damaging files and furniture in the raid on Mr. Flaherty's office, which OCAP said was a symbolic eviction to protest evictions of low-income tenants due to government policies.

Only one other alleged participant, Shawn Lee Popham, has been denied bail.

Mr. Clarke also faces two counts of breaching bail conditions imposed after he was charged with participating in a riot -- the demonstration at Queen's Park on June 15, 2000, that ended in violent clashes between police and protesters.

Mr. Clarke, who was kept in handcuffs and shackles throughout his appearance in court, grimaced as Mr. Harris announced his decision, and lawyer Peter Rosenthal told reporters afterward he will appeal as soon as possible to the Ontario Superior Court.

"I am surprised by the ruling because it's incorrect in law," Mr. Rosenthal said.

He noted that Mr. Clarke had pledged to the court that he would stay away from all demonstrations until after his trial and thus could not pose a risk to the public.

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Lawyer Howard Morton, who will assist with the bail appeal, said "the saddest thing is that OCAP was portrayed in there as a terrorist organization. That's a tragedy when you look at all the good work they do."

OCAP sympathizers, including broadcaster and on-line publisher Judy Rebick and street-health nurse Cathy Crowe, testified that the organization provides invaluable aid to homeless people, tenants, welfare applicants and refugees in addition to staging public events.

During the bail hearing, investigators from the Durham Regional Police force acknowledged that they arrested Mr. Clarke without a warrant and that they did not know that one of the bail conditions he was charged with breaching had been lifted by the Ontario Superior Court last year.

Detective Mark Price also testified that the absence of signatures and dates on a police synopsis of civilian witnesses' statements read out at the hearing was "an oversight."

David Hulchanski, a social work professor at the University of Toronto who was not allowed to post bail for Mr. Clarke, told the court that while he does not personally support OCAP's dramatic tactics, "they are not a serious threat to society."

"The whole incident has been blown out of proportion," Prof. Hulchanski said.

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