This past Thursday morning, January 19th, Charles LeBlanc had eight members of the Fredericton City Police show up at his low-rent apartment. They arrested him and seized his computer equipment, but they refused to charge him with any crime.
On the surface, it doesn’t look like much. Just some guy on welfare getting busted by police. He obviously had it coming for some reason, right? Nothing to see here, police say, now move along.
Hang on a second.
Whenever the police tell me there is nothing to see here, to just move along, that’s the red flag waving in my face that something clearly deserves a closer look.
A quick web search for the name “Charles LeBlanc” quickly reveals a few things:
Charles has ADHD.
Charles is on welfare.
Charles is a self-proclaimed “Political ADHD Activist”, whatever that means.
Primarily, though, Charles LeBlanc is a guy who walks and bicycles around the streets of Fredericton, New Brunswick, videotaping what goes on in the city before reporting those events on his blog.
Is Charles LeBlanc just another wingnut with a computer, a video camera and too much time on his hands, or is he someone who has a valid viewpoint who is being harassed by Fredericton City Police?
It’s a valid question, and one that Fredericton City Police claim is framed not as a Freedom of Speech or Charter Rights issue, but one of criminal libel of one of their own, an unnamed constable who was allegedly libeled on Charles’ blog last summer.
The fact they have not charged him with any crime is, naturally, entirely beside the point.
So what exactly prompted the seizure of his computer equipment and his arrest for what Fredericton City Police Constable Rick Mooney said was “in connection with an investigation into defamatory libel, which is a Criminal Code offence under Section 301”?
Is it really what Constable Mooney claims, a 6-month old libel charge? Or did Charles film something that the Fredericton City Police didn’t like?
As a matter of fact, yes he did.
On July 18, 2009, Charles LeBlanc was on scene videotaping Fredericton City Police constables beating up Private Luc Begin so badly they fractured one of his vertebrae.
Fredericton Police Chief Barry MacKnight, who recently asked for civilian volunteers to run speed traps because he didn’t feel like having his own constables do it, had the RCMP conduct an investigation into “the incident” after suspending (with pay of course!) one of two constables identified in the complaint.
Constable Stephen Stafford, who was rewarded with a seven-week paid vacation (euphemistically called a suspension), was eventually charged with assault for the attack on Private Luc Begin that left him with a broken vertebrae.
Stafford pleaded not guilty. Nothing surprising there, however the charge would probably never even have been laid, despite Begin’s complaint, had it not been for Charles LeBlanc’s videotape of the events. Police Brutality is pretty hard to deny when it’s caught on tape. Just ask RCMP Constable Geoff Mantler!
Police claim Begin’s arrest was for a previous altercation that took place on July 10th, 2009, but since Begin was with his future father-in-law on that date, it seems more likely police are attempting to muddy the waters, if you will, rather than hold one of their own accountable for police brutality caught on tape for the world to see.
Now this was two years ago, so how could this be the thing that caused police to go after Charles over two years later?
Charles is, as I alluded to earlier, well known in Fredericton, New Brunswick. He is a regular face on the city streets, and protests issues related to Charter Rights and Freedoms, as well as poverty issues facing him and his fellow New Brunswickers.
He uses some odd phrases to describe Fredericton City Police constables, calling them “racist”, when it would seem he means “discriminatory” against the city’s homeless, poor and mentally challenged individuals.
Charles has his idiosyncrasies, to be sure. Don’t we all. He also has what many of us wish we had, namely the time, energy and willingness to try and make a difference in our world.
Charles believes strongly that all Canadian citizens must be held to the same standard. If’ it is, for example, illegal for Charles LeBlanc to jaywalk, then Charles wants to know why a well-known politician has not been ticketed after Charles provided both a complaint and photographic evidence to back up the charge to police.
If it’s okay for them to ticket him for riding a bike on the sidewalk based on a private citizen’s statement, then why does the same not apply to politicians?
It’s a valid question.
Fredericton City Police, however, seem content to enforce the law selectively, and the city’s poor and homeless are targets that won’t cost them anything, whereas enforcing the law against politicians might hurt the career of the constable issuing the ticket, should the politician have enough political clout.
Charles LeBlanc has been banned for life from attending the provincial parliament, or from even so much as standing on the lawn. Police regularly arrest him for being a nuisance to them, and have, in recent months, arrested him for things as petty as riding his bicycle down the street and using a bullhorn during a protest.
LeBlanc has a lot of time on his hands, to be sure.
He is, as I wrote earlier, on welfare because of his ADHD condition. He is also a fixture of the local political scene and has been for a long time, being interviewed regularly on both television and radio shows, even if only to mock him.
LeBlanc does, however, get results and people appreciate his efforts to publicize issues. He has had computers, video cameras and digital cameras donated to him to keep his blogging efforts alive. I’ve been contacted directly by two individuals confirming their donation of computers, and have had third-party reports of the camera donations.
All of this leads to an ongoing issue for Fredericton City Police. They can’t control Charles, and they can’t seem to stop him from blogging, or from roaming the city streets all hours of the day and night, videotaping everything in his path.
So they finally decided the best way to shut him up is make a libel claim so they can seize his computer, all while not laying a single charge.
That’s police bully tactics worthy of the KGB, Charles claims. The sign shown here makes no bones about how the blogger feels about the recent police action against him.
Now, the fact that the Fredericton City Police seized Charles’ computer isn’t overly surprising. They want to shut him up and this is the best way to do it, right?
What is more interesting is that the seizure included the high-speed modem Charles uses to connect to the internet and update his blog.
Seizing that piece of equipment guaranteed that even if another Good Samaritan donated another computer to Charles (he’s been given two computers that I am personally aware of), he can’t use it to connect with the internet until he can come up with the money to pay for another high-speed modem from, his Internet Service Provider.
Freedom of Speech is a vital right of All Canadians, whether we like what they say or not.
It is NOT a right held only for those who can stylishly make their points in properly punctuated sentences and polite language.
It is a right for ALL Canadians, Charles LeBlanc included.
Thuggish police actions such as those used against Charles LeBlanc, where private property is seized in order to shut someone up and where no charges are laid to support that seizure, should never be tolerated in Canada.
It is most interesting to note that while police were raiding his apartment, Charles was threatened with jail time if he so much as mentioned the name of the Fredericton police constable who he supposedly libeled on his blog.
If police haven’t got the balls to charge him with a crime, why do they feel it’s perfectly acceptable to threaten him?
Regardless of whether Charles actually did what Fredericton Police claim he did or not, threats like this have no place in Canada.