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Charges dropped against 20 climate protesters who blocked Toronto bridge

TORONTO — Cheers erupted outside a Toronto courtroom Monday after a group of 20 protesters arrested during climate demonstrations last month saw the charges against them withdrawn.
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TORONTO — Cheers erupted outside a Toronto courtroom Monday after a group of 20 protesters arrested during climate demonstrations last month saw the charges against them withdrawn.

Crown attorneys told a packed court it would not be in the public interest to pursue criminal charges against the protesters, who blocked the Bloor Viaduct for several hours on Oct. 7 as part of an international movement to spur urgent government action on climate change.

Defence lawyer Michael Leitold said the actions taken by the group to address climate change were, however, in the public interest.

The group was greeted with hugs and applause as they left the downtown courtroom Monday afternoon. But some said they had mixed feelings about the outcome despite the relief of being spared a criminal trial.

Amanda Sinclair, who wore a cow onesie to Monday's court appearance, called it "one very small, minute victory" in a broader battle against climate change.

"It's good that the charges have been dropped because it normalizes what we're doing," she said outside court.

But the real issue is whether governments are taking meaningful steps to protect the environment and animal rights, she said. "I want to know what's going to be done now," she said.

Jenny McQueen said she was "kind of elated" to see the charges dropped even though a trial would have drawn more attention to the group's cause.

"We were arrested for doing the right thing... we will continue to do that," she said after the hearing. "If they would stop arresting us in the first place, that would be nice too."

McQueen and at least one other person wore plush cow and bull hats but removed them before the proceedings began as non-religious headwear is prohibited inside courtrooms.

Some of the accused had expressed frustration at being charged for engaging in what they and police have described as a peaceful protest, which included members of the groups Extinction Rebellion and Animal Rebellion. Each had faced a charge of mischief under $5,000.

The Toronto chapter of the environmental group Extinction Rebellion said at the time of the demonstration that impeding traffic was a necessary, if disruptive, tactic.

Sinclair, 27, repeated that message outside court Monday.

"The reality is we need to be disrupting people and we need to be drawing awareness to this issue and any way that we can do that is for the good," she said.

Similar protests also took place in Halifax, Edmonton, Vancouver and other Canadian cities, while some European cities saw hundreds of people turn up for protests.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 18, 2019.

Paola Loriggio, The Canadian Press




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