Sunday, October 24, 2004

Why Ms Hiscocks is my heroine

(cut and pasted from the Ottawa Citizen)

A jury admitted yesterday it was hopelessly deadlocked in the trial of five people who occupied a house during G8 protests in Ottawa in 2002. Following a three-week trial, and three days of deliberations, the jury told the court it was "unable to agree" on a verdict on 18 of 20 charges against Nicholas Ackerley, Rachelle Sauve, Amy Miller, Amanda Hiscocks and Dan Sawyer. The only verdicts reached were acquittals for Mr. Sawyer and Ms. Hiscocks on a charge of criminal mischief causing damage. All the accused were charged with break and enter, two counts of criminal mischief and one count of obstructing a police officer. They defended themselves. "Obviously, we're very pleased," said Mr. Sawyer. "It seems the jury, or at least some members of the jury, took what we were saying to heart. There must have been a very heated debate in that jury room. I only hope now that debate occurs across the city." The accused admitted they occupied, i. e., squatted, at 246 Gilmour St. between June 26 and July 3, 2002, when a massive police intervention finally evicted them. The house was privately owned and was vacant for seven years. They argued a severe housing "crisis" made the occupation necessary, and that there was a "greater community need" for the house, a need that effectively trumped the owner's right to leave it vacant. Crown Attorney David Elhadad argued the defendants simply broke the law, no matter their intentions. In the end, the jury refused to convict on any charges. "I think this will get people talking, and that's a good thing," said city councillor Diane Holmes, whose ward takes in Gilmour Street, and who was at the courthouse. "Affordable housing is a terribly important issue for this city, and this will highlight the issue. As for what they did, I guess even the jury had a hard time deciding it was wrong." The owner of the house, Richard Davis, testified he obtained the house as part of his mother's estate, of which he is co-executor. He said it needed major repairs, which he was never able to afford. He said it was vacant during the final years of his mother's lengthy illness, and during the years immediately following her death, when the estate was being settled. He denied the house had been abandoned, and said it was for sale at the time the defendants occupied it. He testified an offer to buy the house was even on the table in June 2002, but could not close because of the occupation. He said he eventually sold the house for much less than that offer. The house has since been torn down. He said earlier in the week a deadlocked jury, or outright acquittal, would send the wrong message to the community. "How can someone take over your house?" he asked. "I agree homelessness is an important issue, but that doesn't mean you take away someone's home. That's not the way to find a solution." The defendants yesterday said that might be exactly how to find a solution. "It's time the city looked at a use-it-or-lose-it bylaw," said Mr. Sawyer. "If you don't use your property, then in areas where there is a lack of affordable housing, and a need for it, then maybe the city should step inand do something." The Crown attorney has until Dec. 3 to decide whether to retry the defendants.

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