Plan `disintegrated': Clarke

Apr. 17, 2003. 01:00 AM

HAROLD LEVY
STAFF REPORTER

John Clarke says plans for an anti-poverty demonstration at Queen's Park "disintegrated" after protesters easily overturned two sets of barricades protecting the front steps of the Legislature and rushed forward toward police.

Clarke, an organizer for the Ontario Coalition Against Poverty (OCAP), was charged with counselling other people to riot and to assault police after the demonstration turned violent on June 15, 2000.

He was commenting yesterday on a video that shows a hitherto peaceful event turning violent after a crowd overturns two sets of unsecured barriers and rushes towards the Legislature.

"The collapse ... was really the defining moment in terms of the plan disintegrating," Clarke told the jury. "In all of our plans, we had never considered that there would be a collapse of the barricades."

Under the plan, as outlined by Clarke, if an OCAP delegation was denied the opportunity to address the Legislature on behalf of the homeless, as was quite likely, the crowd would move forward to demand entry for the delegation, a portion of the barricades would be dislodged and there would be an attention-gathering face-to-face confrontation with police.

"We suspected that we would meet a strong force of police officers. We also suspected that strongly secured barricades would be very firmly mounted," Clarke said. "We believed the plan would lead someone to say, `What do you people want? Let's talk.'"

He added that the plan called for withdrawing to Allan Gardens, the demonstration's staging point, after pointing out "the political spectacle of homeless people demanding access to the Legislature being shut out."

Clarke pointed out to the jurors that throughout the 34 pages of notes in a folder labelled "June 15," seized from him by police when he was arrested about five weeks later, were words such as "withdrawal" and "dispersion."

"One would have thought that if a plan of action had been developed to storm the Legislature, the plan would have said what happens when you got through the doors and how to get into the Legislature itself," Clarke said forcefully. "We didn't pursue that plan because it would have created a bloodbath.

"If the group had stormed the place while the Legislature was meeting, it's possible that guns would have been used ...."

In other testimony yesterday, Clarke told the jury that the Speaker's office had incorrectly concluded that OCAP wanted to hold the demonstration inside the Legislature, and that the Speaker lost an opportunity to defuse the situation by failing to send a representative to talk to Clarke that day.

Clarke also suggested the police might have been able to defuse the situation if they had shown a willingness to compromise and to use imagination.

"I've dealt with a lot of police officers. There's no doubt about that," he continued. "Whatever we think of each other, it's not uncommon for the police to recognize that a compromise might be reached." Clarke told his lawyer, Peter Rosenthal, that while, on reflection, there are some things he would have done "differently," he did not feel at the time that he owed an apology for what happened at the Legislature because, "I thought there was a terrible injustice among homeless people that had not been addressed."

The trial continues today before Mr. Justice Lee Ferrier in the Superior Court of Justice.