Benoit Leroux and Gilles Dumas are two members of Father's-4 -Justice, a political action group dedicated to fighting the legal and political system, in relation to the systematic denial of equal parenting rights for men, in divorce situations. The two were recently convicted of mischief and conspiracy as a result of a publicity stunt they pulled back in May 2005.
Leroux, wearing a 'Robin' costume (as in Batman & Robin), climbed atop the Jacques Cartier Bridge in Montreal and unfurled a banner demanding parental equality. His partner in crime, Dumas, served as his liaison on the ground. Traffic was held up for hours, as police shut down the bridge.
F4J is a support group for fathers, unjustly denied parental rights. Started in the UK, it sprouted chapters in the Netherlands and Canada in 2004, and in the USA and Italy in 2005.
Stymied in the courts and legislatures, the 'Justice league,' resorts to highly visual stunts to bring attention to their cause. Dressed up in superhero costumes, they climb buildings and bridges and unfurl protest banners, causing disturbances that invariably garner publicity.
Guy Lafleur is an ex-hockey superstar who played for the Montreal Canadiens. Long after his career ended, he still remains a highly popular and recognizable celebrity in Quebec. He is also the father of a troubled son, Mark, who's problems with drugs led to his arrest and conviction on more than a dozen charges, including uttering death threats, forcible confinement and assault.
Like any good father, Mr. Lafleur stood by his son and tried to see him through the ordeal.
While free on bail, Mark broke conditions and crown prosecutors claim that his father, Guy helped him do so. They are charging Mr. Lafleur for lying about it in court.
What you may ask, do Benoit Leroux, Gilles Dumas and Guy Lafleur have in common?
Not much, it would seem, but there is an important connection.
All three men are being pursued by a vengeful justice system, one that wants to punish them, not only for the alleged crime that they committed, but because their 'crime' is perceived as an attack on the justice system.
In the case of Mr. Lafleur, prosecutors were outraged that he allegedly helped his son break bail conditions and then lied about it in court. They took personal offence that they were being mocked and decided to strike back.
They took the extraordinary measure of issuing an arrest warrant, instead of a simple summons. Mr. Lafleur was forced to come to the police station and was arrested like a common criminal, when ordinarily, his lawyer would have been telephoned and been asked to bring in his client at an appointed time. The prosecutors proceeded with the showy arrest knowing full well that Mr. Lafleur wasn't exactly a flight risk. The whole procedure was staged to maximize his humiliation as punishment for crossing them in court.
Had Mr. Lafleur committed a similar, but a less personally offensive crime, it would have taken months to proceed to a charge (if any) and then the sickeningly slow pace of justice would ultimately have lead to the charges being dropped or the inevitable plea-down.
A word of warning to prosecutors. If they prefer charges that would entitle Mr. Lafleur to a jury trial, they will be in for a big surprise. Their harsh and cruel treatment of an icon, one who was desperately trying to help his son, has not played out well in the public. It's most unlikely that any jury in Quebec will convict him.
In the case of Benoit Leroux and Gilles Dumas, it was preordained that the justice system would treat them harshly. Had they been protesting in favour of gay rights, a native or women's cause, the case would have long ago been dropped or plead down to a misdemeanour.
But they were protesting against a biased court system and that's what did them in. Prosecutors would have none of that and an example would have to be made.
Considering, that all that the two did was to delay traffic, was a 'conspiracy' charge really appropriate?
It's true that lots of people were inconvenienced, but that's what protest is all about.
In May 2003, three hundred city of Montreal blue collar workers surrounded city hall with heavy machinery and blocked access to the whole neighborhood, in protest against lagging contract negotiations. Nothing, not even ambulances could get through the blockade, for hours.
Was one participant arrested or charged? No.
Did union organizers ever face justice? No.
Why not? Police had plenty of opportunity to make arrests, yet they chose not to.
The protest was obviously well organized and prepared in advance, so why didn't prosecutors charge the higher ups who planned the event, with 'conspiracy'?
We've all been inconvenienced by peaceful protests and wildcat strikes.
Students demonstrations, union disruptions, taxis, truckers and farmers who block roads to make their grievances known...etc. It's all part of life in a modern society, nobody ever gets charged or goes to jail.
So why were Benoit Leroux and Gilles Dumas treated differently? Why were they made to suffer when every one else is given a pass?
It seems that you can protest against just about anything with immunity, but if you protest against the justice system, expect prosecutors to take notice and expect the full weight of the law to come down on you.
The lesson is, don't embarrass or attack the justice system. Prosecutors will defend their turf. They will use their discretionary power to ruthlessly punish anyone who defies them or who attacks their integrity or otherwise makes them look foolish.
When that happens, you can be sure that the punishment, will most definitely, not fit the crime.
While both these cases don't rise to the level of the famous Chicago Seven trial, (where in 1969, a biased American judge harshly and unfairly treated the accused because they were mocking him and the judicial system) it's important that the public take a stand against prosecutorial excess.
Prosecutors need to be sent a message;
Don't make it personal, it isn't fair and we will not stand for it.