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Out of Jail

March 1, 2011

BY ALEX HUNDERT

From toronto.mediacoop.ca

(Updated on January 26: I was released from jail on January 24)

Alex Hundert

After nearly five months in jail, I will finally be walking out of the Toronto West Detention Centre having taken a plea bargain with the Crown.

The deal required that I plead guilty to a single count of “breach recognizance” stemming from a single presentation amongst many presentations at the September 17 event at Ryerson University titled “Strengthening Our Resolve: Movement Building and Ongoing Resistance to the G20 Agenda.”

The plea was in exchange for having the breach of bail coming from an almost identical event at Wilfrid Laurier University dropped, along with two counts of breaching my probation (which is left over from an older charge in Cayuga resulting from a blockade in Cayuga) dropped. They have also stopped the proceedings to collect a hundred and twenty thousand dollars from my sureties. More importantly, I finally got a new bail, including being able to post to the internet, having no curfew, and being able to leave the house with designates. This allows me to once again be a contributing member of my community and to the movements I am a part of.

Some people will be quick to judge this as a “sell out,” as exchanging a platform to fight for a potentially meaningful victory in court for my personal freedom. That possibility has haunted me. But I do sincerely believe that position to be a hasty and narrow judgment.

As it stood, I found out that my trial date for the breach was moved from January 31 to March. Regardless of the outcome of the breach trial, I would still not be released until a separate bail hearing to be held in April at the earliest. At that point, I would have been in jail for over seven months with no reasonable prospects of even being released on bail given the pending allegations of “intimidation of a justice participant” and the original conspiracy charges.

To remain behind bars would have been the obvious choice, even if a hard decision. Previously in October, I had made the decision to refuse my bail which included a media gag and punitive non associations. Staying in jail this time around would also have been relatively easy because I had been doing just fine in there. But at the same time, I was a serious drain on those who have done such wonders in supporting me, helping me stay strong and to feel connected to community. Incarceration is a weapon designed to affect the communities that people are a part of; to suck resources, energy and emotion out of them and not just the individuals held in dungeons.

And while being willing to sacrifice oneself might be noble in theory and sometimes the only right decision to make, in this circumstance I feel it is far more important to be in my community, contributing, giving back, fulfilling my responsibilities. This is who I want to be in the movement right now—a participant, not a symbol.

And what would the point even have been, if I had sat in the cage until after we were able to get our victory in court? The truth is, the only point that can ever be proven in a court is that the courts are a legitimate source of authority in our lives. I would like to deny them that power.

We could have fought them, on their own battle ground, and tried to establish that the OPP’s and the Crown’s position that what took place on the Ryerson and WLU campuses did not constitute “public demonstrations.” I’ve had a long time to think about it, and I realized that I don’t really care how panel discussions are classified by the courts. What I care about is that we are able to defend the spaces in which those free discussions take place and that we do not depend on the state to provide them for us. That defense happens every day, with our unity in the streets, and in those spaces themselves, not in a courtroom.

And if we had won the trial it would merely have established that I had not breached my bail conditions on those particular days. It would not establish that the cops and the Crown would never be able to treat another campus-based discussion as a “public demonstration.” The fight is not whether a panel discussion is a public demonstration, the fight is over the existence of such a bail condition itself and it will hopefully be found “unconstitutional” as a result of a challenge that has been put forward by one of my co-accused.

For those who do prioritize such legal victories, I actually think that we have come closer to establishing that such discussions are not to be legally defined as demonstrations than we would have by winning at trial. The charges for the Laurier event were dropped, and I only pled guilty for one part of the event at Ryerson as contravening my bail condition not to participate in a public demonstration.

In the statement of facts agreed upon at court during the plea hearing, what was specifically defined as constituting a breach was just a single presentation by three Indigenous women at Ryerson. They used props, and the opening line included the statement, “I am not here today as a panelist.” In such a twisted world that wants to hold people in jails and put on shows in courtrooms to argue over such semantics, I can accept that such a presentation, in a room full of nearly three hundred people, might need to constitute a “public demonstration.” Nothing in my plea suggests that there was anything “unlawful” about that presentation, just that under this regime, it counts as a “public demonstration.”

I would like to add though, that I whole-heartedly support every word that those women had to say that night. The content was both poignant and necessary, and also perfectly in line with panel discussions. By no means in itself did the content of the presentation constitute a public demonstration. It was not the Indigenous language, nor the possession of traditional eagle feathers; it was merely the use of plastic handcuffs as props. These props served to demonstrate the ways in which Indigenous people’s participation in academic, activist, and broader society has been handcuffed by racist and colonial practices and structures. Also far too often, Indigenous people find themselves in literal handcuffs as a result of the patterns in this legal system, especially pre-trial incarcerations, over-prosecutions, and unjust convictions. I thank those women for making that presentation that night, and if it makes me “guilty,” again, so be it. Nyaweh, miigwetch to them.

I would like to write a new narrative, one other than the tired and damaging narrative of martyrdom whereby one isolated person sits in a jail cell becoming a symbol against injustice. We need to tell a new story—one that does not insist on suffering from those committed to our movements. While this is often necessary, we also need a discourse that speaks to us about commitment as meaning that we are actually part of the daily struggles that strive to build communities and networks that can sustain our visions for better lives and for spaces where real freedom and safety are possible. This is the type of story that I want to be telling.

I don’t think that people should be any less outraged now that I am out of jail. The injustice of the system has been laid bare again like so many times before. It is the inherent functioning of an explicitly oppressive system that is designed to perpetuate power and propagate its own order, especially against targeted communities including Indigenous people, people of colour, poor people, queer and trans people. This system cannot be vindicated by courtroom victories. Be outraged and let’s struggle on our own terms.

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