On-campus protest supports G20 accused
A group of approximately twenty students and faculty from Wilfrid Laurier University along with members of the community gathered Tuesday afternoon to march from campus to the Waterloo Regional Police station in Uptown Waterloo.
The march was in protest of the re-arrest and detention of Alex Hundert, a Laurier graduate and member of the AW@L activist group, who was first arrested in June in connection with the G20 protests in Toronto.
Hundert was arrested again in September for breaching a bail condition that he not participate in any demonstration after speaking as a panellist at university events at Laurier’s faculty of social work in Kitchener and Ryerson University.
Those gathered at Laurier on Tuesday questioned the circumstances of this arrest as Hundert’s participation in the panels was ruled “demonstration” by a justice of the peace last week.
“Maybe the court and police need to know what a demonstration really is,” said AW@L member and Laurier music student Rachel Avery after the group arrived at the police station.
“This is a demonstration. We are here today because we are outraged at what they’ve done to Alex and we demand his release.”
Other Laurier students and graduates Sterling Stutz, Paul Sauder and Adam Lewis remain under house arrest on charges related to the June 26 protests in Toronto.
Several faculty members of Laurier’s faculty of social work were present including Alex’s mother, Deena Mandell. “It means a lot personally as Alex’s mother,” she said of those who were present for the march. “It shows me the loyalty and convictions that these young people feel … about something that is happening that is quite frightening.”
That Hundert’s participation in the panels leading up to his arrest, including the event at Laurier, was considered a form of demonstration and in breach of his conditions of release concerned faculty of social work professor Marshall Fine. “The panel session was not a demonstration,” he said. “It was not meant that way, to be able to frame it that way is interesting to me.”
Mandell elaborated on the implications of the ruling. “That reframing of a panel discussion within a university, to me as an academic, is very alarming,” she said. “I think that is a very scary position for the courts to take because it affects how we educate our students and what it means for freedom of speech in a university.”
Martha Kuwee Kumsa, another Laurier professor of social work, was among those gathered before the march began. She said that it was important to attend because of the “critical dialogue” engaged in by activists like Hundert.
“I want people to be able to express freely without fear of arrest, fear of imprisonment, fear of anything,” she said, adding, “This is not what I expect in this society at all.”
“This is a democratic society – I come from a totalitarian society and I’ve paid heavily for it, to protect my own voice of dissent.” Kumsa, a native of Ethiopia and journalist, was imprisoned for ten years in 1980 by the
Ethiopian regime, accused of participating in political resistance. She was eventually released after being tortured while imprisoned and came to Canada in 1991.
Laurier sociology professor Peter Eglin was asked to speak to those assembled at the steps of the police station. “We’re now seeing an attack on civil rights, things that we could take for granted before this point and now see that we can’t,” he said.
Mandell explained the greater significance of the protest and the issues at stake. “This is not just about Alex Hundert or the other arrestees,” she said.
“This is about how far the police and the Crown are prepared to go to make people with radical views look dangerous and to threaten the freedom to discuss radical views in a reasonable way, an intelligent way.”
At a bail hearing Tuesday, Alex Hundert declined bail based on the conditions he would face if released. He has been held since Sept. 17th after he was arrested on a bail violation from his first arrest on G20-related charges.
The conditions from this week’s hearing would have prevented Hundert from contact with anyone from AW@L and a number of other organizations. Other conditions included that he not plan or participate in public meetings or marches and not express political views in the media.
Dan Kellar commented on the level of conditions Hundert would have been subject to. “It’s become so clear that it’s about his ideas not so much his actions,” he said, citing the condition not to express political views in media. “They’re punishing him for his ideas,” he said.
Kellar explained why Hundert chose to remain in custody rather than accept the revised bail conditions. “He decided not to accept the conditions because they’re unjust,” he said. “In the battle for social justice, he’s not about to take an unjust deal.”