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Thursday 5 April 2001
Quebec prosecutors are threatening to quit a special eight-member team set up by the provincial government to prosecute protesters arrested at the Summit of the Americas this month.
They are objecting to what they claim is political interference with the judiciary on the part of summit organizers.
One prosecutor has already left the team, and others are expected to follow.
Prosecutors say provincial Justice Minister Paul Begin has directed them to delay all bail hearings of arrested protesters for the maximum three full days allowed by law, as a way of keeping them off the street for the duration of the summit, April 20-22.
"This is political interference, and we should not stand for it," said one prosecutor who did not wish to be named. "It's a plan of battle to hold them in jail. We will not accept these directives."
The Criminal Code allows bail hearings to be delayed for a maximum of three "clear days" between the day of the arrest and the day of the hearing. This means that protesters could find themselves behind bars for five days.
Normally, defendants are processed within 24 hours of their arrest. Often they are released the same day from a police station with a promise to appear in court.
The prosecutors also say they do not want to prosecute people who are protesting against repressive governments represented at the summit.
The Quebec government has built a concrete and chain-link fence around a large section of the Old City where the summit is to take place. About 25,000 protesters are expected to show up.
Jails have been cleared and thousands of police officers from the Montreal Urban Community force, the RCMP and the Surete du Quebec are being brought in for security.
Prosecutors say they have been told not to subpoena police as witnesses during the week of the summit because they won't be available.
Prosecutors noted that the Criminal Code allows them to seek publication bans on bail hearings. One prosecutor said he believes that after the five days of incarceration, charges will simply be dropped in most cases. He said the provincial government is just using the judiciary to keep protesters off the streets.
Montreal prosecutors plan to make public within the next few days a letter of solidarity with the protesters, one prosecutor said.