activist defense

on the intersection of activism and legal systems

québec court of appeal refuses to hear case brought against canadian community group

Having identified recurring problems in a landlord’s building, including cockroaches, mold, dirt, and doors that never locked, a Canadian community group called Oeil distributed leaflets to tenants and successfully represented a tenant against the landlord at the rent board. In 2012, the landlord’s family sued Oeil for defamation, seeking $5.6 million. According to yesterday’s CTV News article, two courts have now rejected the lawsuit:

With the help of a social activist lawyer, Oeil managed to have the lawsuit tossed out because it was considered abusive, and meant to ruin the organization with legal fees. It’s commonly called a SLAPP lawsuit. Last month the Quebec court of Appeal also refused to hear the … case.

Oeil is now entitled to reimbursement for its court costs and legal fees from the landlord’s family.

activists involved in banner action against proctor and gamble scheduled to go to trial

In May 2013, Greenpeace contacted Proctor & Gamble regarding its palm oil sourcing practices. After a year-long investigation into P&G suppliers, Greenpeace linked P&G to palm oil suppliers in Indonesia that apparently engaged in destructive deforestation, clearing of endangered animal habitat, and potentially illegal forest fires. On March 4, activists slipped into P&G in downtown Cincinnati and hung banners from the company’s office towers that criticized its palm oil sourcing practices.

The nine activists allegedly involved in the March 4 action faced felony burglary and vandalism charges. Only one of them was willing to accept the plea deal offered by the prosecution, so the rest are scheduled to go to trial on October 27. According to an American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) publication titled Criminalizing America,

… the size and scope of criminal law has expanded so greatly that it has become a tool for regulating behavior that elected officials and unelected bureaucrats deem undesirable.

(ALEC is a pro-business organization comprised of legislative and corporate members who espouse free-market, limited-government policies. It is one of the groups that pushed the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act through Congress.)

In April, P&G agreed to have 100% sustainably purchased palm and palm kernel oil by 2015, and 100% recycled or third-party certified paper products by 2020.

officer who turned activist’s bike upside down without consent conducted an unlawful search

On May 20, a Santa Ana police officer cited outspoken activist Igmar Rodas for riding an unlicensed bicycle. The Santa Ana municipal code prohibits riding a bike that has not been registered. On Wednesday, however, a judge ruled that the officer conducted an unlawful search by turning Rodas’s bike upside down without his consent. According to the Just Cause Law Collective,

Law enforcement officers can search without a warrant under a wide variety of circumstances. Among these, there’s only one situation in which you have any chance of preventing the intrusion—and that’s by saying “I don’t consent” when the police ask whether they can search. This is a powerful tool for using your civil rights, as important as remaining silent and asking to see a lawyer.

The judge upheld another citation Rodas received, though, for bicycling on a sidewalk in a business district. Rodas said he went on the sidewalk to get out of the officers’ way. He plans to appeal.

officer reinstated after throwing flash-bang grenade at demonstrators assisting scott olsen

During the October 25, 2011 protest against the eviction of Occupy Oakland, an Oakland police officer shot Iraq war veteran Scott Olsen in the head with a lead-filled bean-bag round, fracturing Olsen’s skull and causing permanent brain damage. Another officer, Rob Roche, then threw a flash-bang grenade at demonstrators who came to assist the bleeding Olsen. Although Roche was fired in August 2013 for this brutality, today an arbitrator ordered Oakland to reinstate him with back pay.

The Alameda County District Attorney never filed criminal charges against Roche or any other Oakland police officer for misconduct during the October 25, 2011 protest. Earlier this year, however, Olsen received a $4.5 million settlement from Oakland. According to a March 26 East Bay Express article,

As for Olsen, he said he’s relieved that his injuries were not worse. After the shooting, he temporarily lost his ability to speak and perform basic motor functions, and while he has improved significantly with therapy, his memory, concentration, and speech are still impaired.

former correction commissioner writes that imprisonment is by its very nature destructive

Cecily McMillan elbowed a New York City police officer in the eye as officers cleared Zuccotti Park of Occupy Wall Street protesters in March 2012. She recently served 58 days of a 90-day sentence on Rikers Island, a city jail. In today’s New York Times, the New York City correction commissioner from 2003 to 2009 has a letter to the editor regarding McMillan’s July 24 op-ed:

Cecily McMillan describes a grinding, degrading experience during her short stay on Rikers Island. Imprisonment is by its very nature destructive of human dignity, and the best antidote is for society to use it less often.

McMillan is a graduate student at the New School. Her attorney is appealing her conviction. She maintains that she struck the officer instinctively after he groped her breast.

settlement reached in lawsuit seeking to stop warrantless searches of arrestees’ cell phones

In March 2013, activist Bob Offer-Westort sued San Francisco to stop warrantless searches of arrestees’ cell phones. The parties put the case on hold until the U.S. Supreme Court ruling on June 25, 2014, in which the court held that searching an arrestee’s cell phone generally requires a warrant. Yesterday Offer-Westort dismissed his case in exchange for the San Francisco Police Department’s agreement to stop conducting warrantless searches of arrestees’ cell phones.

Even after the Supreme Court ruling, however, law enforcement agencies can still demand that cellphone carriers provide subscriber information, including text messages and caller locations. In 2012, cellphone carriers reported that they responded to 1.3 million such demands from law enforcement agencies in 2011. They turned over records thousands of times per day in response to police emergencies, court orders, law enforcement subpoenas, and other requests. According to a New York Times article dated July 9, 2012:

Under federal law, the carriers said they generally required a search warrant, a court order or a formal subpoena to release information about a subscriber. But in cases that law enforcement officials deem an emergency, a less formal request is often enough.

watchlisting guidance sets forth inclusion criteria, evidentiary standards, and procedures for placing individuals on no-fly list

The no-fly list, a secondary watch list derived from the main terrorist watch list, is used to prevent people from boarding aircraft. It consisted of 16 names before September 11, 2001. As of early 2012, it included approximately 21,000 names.

The only requirement for labeling someone a terrorist and barring him or her from flying indefinitely is that a federal agent must believe the person poses a ‘threat’ of engaging in terrorism. The definition of terrorism is broad enough to include civil disobedience. According to today’s press release from the Center for Constitutional Rights,

The criteria for placement on the broader terrorist watchlist, which grew by nearly half a million entries in 2013 alone, are even lower. Social media postings, including, presumably, posts to Facebook and Twitter, can apparently by themselves result in placement on a watchlist, as can “travel for no known lawful or legitimate purpose to a locus of terrorist activity” …

police department attempts to silence twenty-fifth annual school of the americas watch vigil

Created in Panama and moved to Fort Benning, Georgia in 1984, the School of the Americas (SOA) trained military leaders from countries throughout the Western Hemisphere in combat and counter-insurgency techniques. Hundreds of the SOA’s graduates went on to become human rights abusers, bolstering military dictatorships by killing, torturing, or otherwise suppressing political opponents. In response, SOA Watch was formed in 1990 to raise awareness regarding the SOA’s activities.

In 2000, the SOA was “replaced” by the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation (WHINSEC), which opened in late 2001. Activists seeking to close the school were not deterred, continuing annual vigils at the main gates of Fort Benning to commemorate a 1989 massacre at the University of Central America caused in large part by soldiers trained at the SOA. Yet this year the local police department is attempting to silence the vigil, according to a National Catholic Reporter article:

The police department … has told the movement … that the city would not close the gates of the fort at that location as it has in the past. The city also said it will not close the street to vehicular traffic, that the gathering would have to be limited to 200 people and that they would have to remain on the sidewalks. Chief Ricky Boren also denied permission for a stage and sound system to be erected in its usual spot in the middle of Fort Benning Road.

As SOA Watch organizers and attorneys tackle this problem, you can sign a petition urging the police chief to reconsider.

european court condemns russia’s practice of putting defendants in metal cages in court

Today a European court condemned Russia’s practice of putting defendants in metal cages in court as “degrading treatment” and “an affront to human dignity.” The court ordered Russia to pay damages to the two plaintiffs in the case. According to an Associated Press article,

The European Court of Human Rights ordered Russia to pay 16,000 euros total to plaintiffs Alexander Svinarenko and Valentin Sladnyev. … The ruling could prompt others who have been held in Russian courtroom cages to file similar lawsuits. … Among other defendants who have been held in metal cages are Greenpeace activists, Bolshoi Ballet dancer Pavel Dmitrichenko and the members of punk group Pussy Riot.

After members of Pussy Riot were held in metal cages in court, two of them were transferred to penal colonies that did not differ significantly from the gulags of the Soviet Union. Nadezhda Tolokonnikova published an open letter describing how prisoners were routinely overworked and kept in inhumane conditions. Prison officials subsequently announced that they would increase prisoners’ wages and decrease working hours.

ontario court orders greenpeace canada to pay legal costs to canada’s largest logging company

Canada’s largest logging company, Resolute Forest Products, filed a $7 million defamation lawsuit against Greenpeace Canada in May 2013. Yesterday an Ontario Divisional Court tribunal ordered Greenpeace Canada to pay $22,000 in legal costs to Resolute. According to Greenpeace Canada,

Resolute, formerly AbitibiBowater, operates and sources from large areas of the Boreal Forest, including in the Montagnes Blanches “Endangered Forest” in Quebec and the Trout Lake-Caribou “Endangered Forest” in Ontario. The company has a long history of unsustainable activities in Canada’s Boreal. It is involved in disputes with First Nations communities for logging in areas without their consent and its operations threaten iconic species such as the woodland caribou.

Legal action of this kind, brought by a corporation against an activist or group opposing the corporation, is referred to as a Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation (SLAPP). Most SLAPPs are legally meritless but still achieve their purpose, which is to chill public debate regarding an issue (e.g., forest destruction). Greenpeace has 10 days to file a response.

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