"Wescam Three" Acquitted

Anti-War Protesters Cleared of Trespass Charges but Sternly Lectured on the Pre-Eminence of Private Property by Restaurateur turned Justice of the Peace


"These people [military manufacturer Wescam] run a business. I don't know what it is and I don't care what it is." -- Burlington Crown Attorney Tom Davies

April 24, 2003, Burlington, ON -- Following a strange day in court, three people charged with trespassing at a peace demonstration last year were acquitted of the charges in Halton Provincial Court today.

Andrew Loucks and David Jefferess of Hamilton and Matthew Behrens of Toronto had been part of a group of 20 people who gathered at the site of Burlington, Ontario military manufacturer Wescam last December 10, International Human Rights Day, to seek a meeting with the head of the company. They were charged with trespassing.

But the road to acquittal was a rocky one, as an air of acrimony greeted them upon their arrival in court.

Perhaps it was the fact that the justice of the peace, the Harris government appointee Barry Quinn, was concerned about his brother's bleak employment prospects (we were told his brother Pat is the likely-to-be-dismissed head coach of the Toronto Maple Leafs, booted from the hockey playoffs in the first round just two days earlier.)

Or maybe it was just a case of general malaise because when it comes to holding military manufacturers accountable to the community and international law, concepts like openness, transparency, and democracy take a back seat to the market "opportunities" offered up in the slaughter of Afghani or Iraqi citizens. Especially when those market opportunities are developed and manufactured from behind the safe fortress of private property which courts value so highly.

For Wescam, Sept. 11, 2001 and the subsequent escalation of war and repression have been a boon, with the expectation that billions will flow into their coffers to provide military equipment to a broad range of human rights violators (the U.S., Egypt, Colombia) as well as surveillance and control technology to those who would shut down borders to refugees and those who would repress political demonstrations.

Wescam is well known for the targetting system of the Predator, the unmanned aerial vehicle which was called one of the "superstars" of the recent atrocities committed against the Iraqi people, the Cobra attack helicopter, and the C-130 (the last used to especially deadly effect in Afghanistan), among many others.

Wescam was recently bought by massive military conglomerate L-3 Communications, a top-10 Pentagon contractor which portrays itself as the "home depot" of the military trade and one of whose executives is now colonial head of Iraq: General Jay Garner.

As the trial gets under way, it appears this court is perhaps not used to having demonstrators in the dock. JP Quinn appears ready to jump from behind his desk and throttle one of the defendants who, when asked how he pleads to the charge, replies, "I plead for an end to the profiting from war," JP Quinn looks daggers at him and asks again, "How do you plead?" The answer is returned, "For an end to those who would profit from war."

"This is a court of law, and a certain decorum needs to be followed," Quinn lectures us. "We already seem to be getting off on the wrong foot."

Crown attorney Davies calls his police witness but, after going through the normal particulars (how long have you been on the force, were you there on the day in question), asks the officer no further questions,. Perhaps Davies thinks the case is wrapped up because the three defendants have already told him, and the court, that they do not dispute that they on Wescam property, and that they were arrested and hauled away. How, Davies must wonder, can he lose?

We try to enter into evidence a copy of a video of the demonstration. The Crown has consented, but within moments of the tape beginning, when Andrew Loucks is seen explaining to police the purpose of the demonstration, JP Quinn loses his cool, and says there can be no audio played, because it is "irrelevant."

We argue that the audio dialogue between police and protesters is essential, speaking as it does to our refusal to leave the premises on that day. "Politics are not being carried on in this court," says Quinn, in a political statement. "This court is not going to be involved in whether there is a war in Iraq. This court will hear about the here and now only."

We explain that the war in Iraq is part of the here and now, but he's not buying it. Quinn says we can show the video, but only those parts that relate to the charge of trespassing. We explain it ALL relates to the charge, explaining why it is we were on the property and refused to leave. He compromises, and says we can show it, but will have to edit out any reference to politics. We say this is not possible, as it would take hours in an editing room to find the words "trespass" or "leave," and that the ten minutes it would have required to show the video have been surpassed by 15 minutes of discussing the issue. Quinn gets up in a huff, commands us to work it out, and tells us that he'll be back later.

The Crown seems bemused. He has not objected to this video at all, just the JP. We screen a few clips to see if the Crown would object. "I have no problem with it," he says, "but he [Quinn] won't allow it."

His temper under slightly more control, Quinn comes back into the court and announces we may show the video in its entirety, but only later. In the meantime, he says, "if you want to speak to why you didn't leave, you can do that, but only in your own words." We explain that our own words are on the video but, not wanting to be in court forever, we move on.

The only other Crown witness is Bruce Latimer, Wescam Vice President of Corporate Development and former Chief Security Officer. Latimer explains, when asked, that he contacted police prior to the demonstration because company employees, and their children, became aware of the demo while at McMaster University. He then says he did extensive research on us and was concerned that on our website we were allegedly "counselling violence, civil disobedience, disruption of our operations, preparations for chemical agents, getting people ready to be involved with police activity."

Violence? Where, we ask him, did he see this? He can't quite recall, for he hasn't brought any proof of this outrageous claim. So in fact it is a vague recollection. "No, it is MY recollection," he says coldly. He does acknowledge that the company did receive our letters and pleas for a meeting, and says he is not aware of any response. When asked why there is no response, the JP says it is not relevant. When asked whether he thought the demonstration made sense--that we would gather in public after two sets of letters and phone calls proved fruitless -- Latimer says, "It doesn't make sense to me."

We ask him, as former head of security, whether people are normally arrested for approaching the front door. He says no. We ask him what Wescam makes, but the JP refuses to allow the question.

Ironically, people have gathered frequently, unannounced, at Wescam to flyer employees, put leaflets on cars, and go to the front reception area to request information on the company, all without arrests. Indeed, Burlington resident Gail Lorimer tirelessly stands at the entrance to Wescam for the past month from 5-6 pm every weekday with a peace placard. It just seems when you provide Wescam with the courtesy of knowing that we are going to show up, they call out ten police cruisers (one for every two demonstrators in attendance December 10).

Andrew Loucks leads off the defence, explaining how he did research to determine that Wescam was producing weaponry that was to be used against the people of Iraq. He has worked on the issue of Iraq, ending sanctions and the daily bombardment which escalated a month ago into outright invasion and occupation, for some five years, "so perhaps the court can understand the need I have to speak here about this." He refers to numerous documents, from medical authorities to U.N. documents on humanitarian disasters in Iraq to documents on the use of depleted uranium ammunition, as part of the urgent need for the Dec. 10 demo.

At this point, the Crown stands and objects. "We know why they were there, but whether it's a noble cause or not is not for us to decide."

Quinn chimes in too, with "this court is not a forum to continue a demonstration" (he obviously hasn't read the part on our website where we discuss courtroom strategies and how in our view courts are indeed the place to continue the demonstration!)

At this point, Loucks approaches the bench and explains that we have trespass case law showing that the urgent reasons for being in a place and refusing to move need to be part of the defence testimony. Quinn looks bemused, as if to say, "YOU have case law?" Loucks presents him with the case of individuals arrested for occupying consulates of nations which do war training over Innu lands. The court is silent while Quinn reads the document. He appears to be shaken, and surprisingly says Andrew can continue with his testimony.

It is a rare moment, when our relentless persistence, our refusal to knuckle under to Quinn's abrasive manner and repeated verbal jousts of "irrelevance", seem to have had an effect on him. Perhaps he is seeing that honest attempts at communication, difficult though they be to accept at first, might actually be better than the alternative.

The Crown objects, but Quinn rules that the evidence can be admitted, and a stream of documents, from the letters Loucks wrote to the website printouts from Wescam and the company's annual report, make it into the exhibits.

"I saw a direct link from something that was being made in my community to something horrible planned for another community," Loucks says.

David Jefferess takes the stand and explains that, as a peace educator, "I know one of the problems leading to war is lack of dialogue, of communication, and understanding," and yet here we have a classic case of a company ignoring invitations to dialogue, choosing instead to have us arrested. Jefferess also says he finds Latimer's testimony about counselling violence "deeply offensive," noting he and the group are committed to nonviolence and that, if Wescam had only responded with their concerns to us, we would have made our intentions clear, "if only they had allowed us to communicate with them."

Loucks and Behrens present a summation based on necessity and freedom of expression, and the role the courts can play in either finalizing the criminalization of dissent begun with the police arresting us at demonstrations, or declaring that such activities fall well within the limits of tolerance in a democratic society and refusing to impose legal sanctions."

Quinn is again unprepared for individuals putting case law before him. When the commonly used freedom of expression case "Commonwealth" is offered up, he is incredulous. "What IS this?" the restaurant owner turned appointed justice asks.

The Crown is furious. It hasn't been the cakewalk he'd expected. "There are certain ways people can demonstrate," he says, but this was not one of them. "This company has the right to prevent people from coming on to their property, people can't just go on without permission." Davies says we need to separate the wheat from the chaff, that Wescam employees have a right not to be "molested" (unclear where this concept came from), and that you just can't interfere with private property. In essence, he provided a defense for any child pornographer, cat mutilator, or weaponsmaker to keep people concerned about ending such horrors away from the sites of such evil work.

In declaring he doesn't know or care what Wescam makes, Davies sums up the problem with the daily indifference that makes such atrocities as the ongoing war against the people of Iraq and other countries possible.

The court has seen a bit of that reality, however reluctantly, but in the end, a troubled Quinn will ignore the arguments about necessity and freedom of expression, wiggling his way out through a technicality. He declares us not guilty, because the crown has failed to prove the facts of the case. But on three separate occasions during his rambling decision, he says "private property is someone's domain, if they don't want you there, you shouldn't be there."

It is a warning to those who would again try to ascertain the extent of Wescam's involvement in war crimes, and those who would take subsequent action.

But the repeated warning has no effect. As Quinn finishes, we tell him that we'll likely see him again, and head out to get some fresh air and discuss plans for Friday May 9, when from 3:00-6:15 pm, there will be a public gathering to mourn the loss of life due to Wescam's military production and sales, followed by a discussion on the next steps in the campaign.

(Wescam is located 649 North Service Road, Burlington ON, just east of King Road). To get more info on the May 9 event contact Gail at 905.634.7654. To arrange rides from Hamilton or to rsvp, please e-mail grassroots@hwcn.org. For transport from Toronto, contact tasc@web.ca

Background article on protest at WESCAM on International Human RIghts Day, 2002 http://hamilton.indymedia.org/front.php3?article_id=2981&group=webcast   WESCAM'S Web site - http://www.wescam.com/splash.htm 

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