Fighting The Disability Review Process

The Crown laid out her case. She described how two of our defendents were buzzed into the main area of the British Columbia Ministry of Human Resource Health and Services Branch. The Crown explained how they let the other five in, and that we all began to yell, "This is a political occupation, everyone get the hell out." Several of the management locked themselves in their offices and called police, the Crown lied saying we barricaded them in there. It was noted in the police report that we also yelled, "we will not harm you, this is a political occupation, nothing will be touched. We only want this space."

Judge Neal happened to be an ex-Deputy Attorney General of B.C. A high up beaurocrat He was also a reputable right wing judge who once stalled an hour and a half of a drug offenders charge because he thought that someone's 'pattulli body spread' was pot. What surreal luck, we thought.

Judge Neal listened carefully when the Crown told him that "3 people jumped the counter, cleared an office of 40 people, and began to barricade the doors."

The old sheriff looked shocked as I smiled at him nodding. The Crown barely mentioned the police destroying the office to get at us. It was noted that when the police drove the pegs out from under the door, some of us pulled on the door handle to keep the police out. The most aggressive pig, on the other side of the glass, pulled the door handle clean off.

She told it dryly, "Police broke window, gain entry."

But in reality he put his foot on the door, ripped the handle off and fell on his ass. We had a good laugh at him down there so he pulled out his club and shattered the glass all over us. We retreated and opened the second security door (did we know the code or was it a lucky guess?) which locked the police out. They kicked in that door.

She robotically lied, "They form circle, link arms, chanting together. Police pepper spray, break circle, avoid force."

We stood in a circle so that we could see everyone else when the herd of bulls came charging in, we were not linking arms.

We were talking alright, "we are not resisting arrest" (anymore)...in those situations say that, it always comes up in court.

They targetted the men spraying them each three times in the face at close quarters, but also getting the women in proximity. They used so much pepper spray that the police had to treat themselves, and the Health Services Branch was considered "contaminated". After that began 30 boring, cold and hungry hours of incarceration at the Victoria Jail, and Courthouse. During that 30 hours we were not given a chance to properly wash the pepper spray off, it burned continuously.

Our lawyers retaliated by saying that few of us had any prior criminal record, how we were welfare and disability advocates, and good volunteers in Vancouver's Downtown Eastside. I liked how he praised us for helping low income and marginalized people. I felt much was left out so I wanted to speak to the judge. That made some of the defendents uncomfortable so they were relieved that I didn't blow it. Judge Neal warned me sternly at first to take that pen out from behind my ear when I speak to him, but then he listened without interuption. What is written below is largely what I said, with a few additions to keep it readable:

I think its important to establish our motives for this incident. This event took place on March 13th because March 15th was the deadline for the Disabililty Review Process. The BC Liberal Government sent out 23 page forms to disability recipients with a clear goal of cutting 9,000 people off assistance. The government changed the criteria for receiving DBII and then forced many to prove that they met the new qualifications for the $760 cheque. Over 30 disabled people committed suicide, many with mental illness, terrified of homelessness. I submit to the court the case of Arne Ristvedt from Vancouver. On November 5th he committed suicide, two days after receiving his disability review form. He wrote in his suicide note directly about the review process, how he "couldn't take the b**sh*t from this government anymore."

I then told the court what we did on March 13th. How in the police reports many workers noted that they did not think we were 'violent'. One receptionist claimed to be traumatized, but surely no more than we were when the Victoria Police Department came. We let a worker in to get her medication, and she was quickly out again, but she met the police on their way up the stairs.

On that eighth minute a VPD Tactical Team arrived, they did not engage in dialogue. They smashed two security doors then pepper sprayed each of the men three times. We were not charged, nor read any rights. Each of the women were strip searched, but the men weren't. We were locked up for 28 hours while Sergeant Bond, quoted to the Victoria Times Colonist (what a horrible name) "That we were running about TERRORIZING the staff." A slanderous word to use these days. At 9:00 AM, about the 18th hour, defendent Benerice was taken to hospital. She had a diabetic episode throughout the night, and the police did nothing to help her. Our subsequent bail conditions were unreasonable. We were banned from Victoria, except for court dates, and forbidden to enter BC Government Offices for anything but routine personal business.

The Police did so much damage to the Health Services Branch, where the Disability Review Process was beaurocratically nesting, that the office could not re-open for another week. The Disability Review deadline was moved from March 15th to 23rd. Just before the deadline BC Human Resouces claimed that about 100, of the 14,000, forms came in every day. Perhaps 400 or 600 people were not cut off their disability benefits because of this one week extension. We are guilty of acting with the intent to save lives considered excess because another $18 million dollar budget cut. That summer only 400-600 of the expected 9,000 were cut off, because of the things that we and other people did to fight back.

Reg, our older English co-defendent, also spoke briefly. When he said that the government is creating a war on the poor, the Judge scolded him. But Reg pushed on briefly saying that if the government will not change its policies through any action within the system, then people will have to take action for themselves outside of the system.

The worst part was that Judge Neal compared our 'civil disobedience' with Ghandi's illegal march to make salt in 1929. He claimed that what was most noble about Ghandi is that when he and 300,000?? people were rounded up, he confessed of the crime and asked to be punished appropriately. Judge Neal had obviously practiced this sickening Ghandi/Protester routine. "Fuck Ghandi", I thought, "what an asshole".

Guilty of the offence of mischief-obstruct use/enjoyment of property, contrary to Section 430 (1) (c) of the Criminal Code. Sentence: Probation Order: 12 months; conditional discharge:12 months. $50 victim surcharge. Jill, Reg, Benerice and I got 50 hours of community service. Anton and Dave got 100 hours because of prior records, as did Megan who the Crown absurdly claimed was our leader. If we obey our conditions we shall have no criminal record when the probation ends.

The outcome was pretty good seeing as Judge Neal didn't give us nearly the punishment that the Crown wanted, such us tougher sentences for some of us and lots of crazy conditions. I am mostly glad the whole thing is over, we would have wasted so much time and money travelling to Vancouver Island to go through a whole trial. I always thought that pleading guilty was morally reprehensible, but I found it liberating to just end the charade. I know that their laws define a system that protects the wealthiest and most powerful interests, I know that what they call justice is a paper beaurocracy of faceless offenders. We never denied that when we went into that office business as usual ended, we couldn't. Let's end the stupid game, just give me my sentence so I can catch the last ferry home.

After greasy spoon lunches, probation orders, probation check in, two buses, an hour and a half ferry ride, a Skytrain trip from Surrey, and a walk home: it was nearly 11:00 PM. I was exhausted.