In anti-poverty activist Gary Kinsman's opinion, the dropping of trespassing charges against all 11 people arrested at Sudbury MPP Rick Bartolucci's office last year shows people have the right to engage in similar actions.
“From what we can see, what we were doing was not trespassing at all,” he said.
“We were in an area of space that we want to argue is public space. The public space is there for constituents to meet with and talk to their MPP. In that sense, trespassing charges don't apply.”
The incident which sparked the arrests was a Nov. 9, 2012 sit-in at Bartolucci's office by members of the Sudbury Coalition Against Poverty (S-CAP).
The group was attempting to draw attention to cuts to a social assistance program called the Community Maintenance and Startup Fund.
After dropping the charges last month against four of the “S-CAP 11,” as the group has dubbed itself, Justice of the Peace Diane Lafleur went on to drop the charges against the remaining seven defendants Nov. 12.
Robert Dey and Martin Boucher were cleared Oct. 31 because there was no testimony about their activities before, during and after their arrest.
In the cases of Clarissa Lassaline and Phillip Marsh, the charges against them were dropped last month because Assistant Crown Attorney Peter Willis had failed to identify the jurisdiction in which the incident occurred.
Defence attorney Don Kuyek successfully used the same premise at the latest court date to clear the rest of the defendants — Kinsman, Anna Harbulik, Brendan Lehman, Thomas Sutton, Pam Charron, Danielle Beaulieu and David Dubois.
Before the balance of the charges were dropped, Willis presented case law in an attempt to reopen his case against the defendants, which he had finished Oct. 31, after one of his witnesses failed to show up.
Lafleur refused his request.
While Kinsman calls the justice's ruling an “important victory,” he said the way it took place is somewhat unfortunate, as Lafleur dropped the charges before the defence arguments were presented.
“We weren't actually able to give the evidence on why we were there and why we did what we did,” he said.
Kuyek said his defence would have centred on the Charter of Rights and Freedoms and the protesters' rights to be in Bartolucci's office.
While none of the S-CAP 11 were particularly concerned about the trespassing charges – a relatively minor offence – Kinsman said they are relieved the process is over.
“We've also had an experience of a very, very boring time in court, with the Crown both being relatively incompetent, in terms of presenting the evidence, but also taking an awful long time to try to do it.”
The case against the S-CAP 11 has been not only time-consuming, but expensive for taxpayers, Kuyek said.
Numerous police officers were involved in the arrests, the subsequent investigation and testifying in court over three days, all of which were costly.
The Crown also refused to have the charges diverted through a $500 donation to a charity dealing with poverty issues, Kuyek said.
No matter how it happened, Lehman said it “feels great” the charges against him were dropped.
“It's obviously nice to not have to pay a ticket, but politically it feels good you can take issues to your constituency office,” he said.
“Obviously not that you want to cause a ruckus every time, but that said, your right to protest and make a point can be respected. It's a good way to spread the issue of the cuts we're fighting.”