Thursday, December 15, 2011

Occupy Regina protesters head to court

By Barb Pacholik
Regina Leader-Post
December 14, 2011

While the forum for the Occupy Regina protesters has moved to a courtroom from a downtown park, participants in the movement say the struggle continues.

Charges against nine people accused of violating a city bylaw last month at the Occupy Regina protest were up in Municipal Court on Wednesday.

Lawyer Noah Evanchuk, speaking on behalf of eight of the individuals, simply adjourned the matters to Jan. 17. He told the court he needs time to get more information from the prosecution as he mulls over the next step.

Outside of court, Evanchuk was unequivocal in one regard: "There won't be any guilty pleas to this."

Evanchuk, who has taken on the case on a pro bono or free basis, said he's still examining options, but the protesters are intending to challenge the tickets because they believe their rights have been infringed. They are accused of violating the Parks and Open Space bylaw, which prohibits people from being in a city park between 11 p.m. and 6 a.m. without a permit.

Telling the court he would speak on his own behalf, Lonnie Mickel said, "I'd like the charge to be thrown out at this time." Mickel told the judge he wasn't in the park. "I think it's silly I'm here for standing on the sidewalk," he added.

Given that Mickel took issue with the ticket, Municipal Court Justice of the Peace Mike Ryan entered a not guilty plea on the man's behalf and set a trial date for Jan. 25.

In an interview, Mickel later said that he had attended the Occupy Regina camp on Nov. 15 to bring them food as a show of support, although he wasn't actually part of the protest. "I was just standing there giving out doughnuts," he said, adding that he was on the sidewalk bordering Victoria Park.

The City of Regina issued tickets to a total of nine men and women on Nov. 14 and 15 before moving in Nov. 16 to shut down the Occupy Regina camp in Victoria Park, adjacent to City Square Plaza. The protest began on Oct. 15 and grew over time to some 30 tents.

"I haven't been there since they threw me out," said Crystal, one of the protesters who declined to give her last name. "Just because we're not in the park, doesn't mean we're not active," she said.

In recent weeks, some members have hung hand-painted banners around the city. The messages read: "We are the 99 per cent;" "You can't evict an idea;" and "People before profit." They said most were promptly pulled down — possibly by the city given a bylaw that prohibits signs (which is also defined to include banners) on public property, highways and utility structures.

Rob Sutherland, one of the Occupy Regina protesters, says the tickets and legal action won't detract from the issues raised by the occupy movement. "The message is still there because the problems are still there," he said. Sutherland noted that what many people fail to grasp is the network created by the movement, and Occupy Regina's link to it. "It's people all over the world," he said.

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