BY GABRIEL CHARBIN
TORONTO - Black rights activist Dudley Laws faced provincial judges on April 27-28 to appeal his 1994 conviction on charges of conspiracy to violate U.S. and Canadian immigration laws.
Laws was originally arrested on Oct. 15, 1991, after a massive police entrapment operation. He is a founder of the Black Action Defense Committee (BADC) and a well known leader in the fight against police brutality.
Leading up to the appeal, BADC organized two rallies on April 18 and April 25. Participants marched to a busy intersection in a West Indian community. The chants of the dozen marchers attracted people to the rally. Dozens more stood outside stores to listen to the speeches and greet Laws and his supporters. Many raised fists in solidarity with Laws.
On April 26, as part of his bail conditions, Laws had to surrender himself to the Toronto Don Jail. A rally was organized to escort him to the jail. The 40 participants chanted "Dudley Laws is a political prisoner!... Don't look in Cuba!... Right here in Canada!" and "Choochalooza Dudley Laws," a chant meaning "keep up the struggle" sung by fighters in South Africa to free Nelson Mandela. Lawyer Charles Roach spoke, saying, "We are here to tell the police in this jail that Dudley will be watched and if they do anything to him we will come back every day until justice is served!"
The panel of three appeal judges was chaired by Ontario Chief Justice Roy McMurtry. During the appeal hearing, every seat in the courtroom was occupied by Laws's supporters, with some having to sit on the floor or stand. Throughout the two-day hearing, more than 80 people came to support Laws.
Laws's lawyers based his appeal on the fact that he was denied a public trial. Examples they used included: when some of his supporters were excluded from the courtroom for refusing to remove religious headgear; that Laws was not present at part of the trial; that permission for wiretapping was wrongfully authorized; and that the judge ruled against introducing the issue of police entrapment at the trial.
Laws is out on bail awaiting the decision of the appeal judges.
Joanne Pritchard contributed to this article.
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