On Thursday, February 14th, at 6 o’clock in the morning, federal marshals arrested an American activist, Joel Bitar, in his New York, NY home on a provisional arrest warrant issued by the US Attorney’s office, acting on a foreign extradition request from Canadian authorities. The complaint against Joel cites 26 counts, almost all relating to property damage that occurred during the G20 summit protests in Toronto, Ontario, Canada in June 2010. After a temporary delay in court proceedings—due to an outbreak of lice in the federal prison where Joel and many others have the misfortune of being held, the weekend, and a national holiday on Monday—Joel went before Magistrate Judge, Gabriel W. Gorenstein, on Tuesday, February 19th, to determine whether he would be granted bail as he awaits his extradition hearing in the United States. During the proceedings, a general timeline of the actions of the Canadian and US authorities was established.
Joel was arrested in Toronto, along with a little over 1,100 other people, during the G20 protests on June 26 and 27th 2010, in what is thought to be the largest mass arrest in Canada’s history. Joel was processed and released without any charges. In December 2010, lead G20 investigator, Det. Sgt. Gary Giroux, announced to various Canadian news agencies that Canada was seeking the extradition of three Americans for damages amounting to $500,000. Soon after, Joel retained the services of an attorney, Martin Stolar, who contacted Giroux. According to Stolar’s testimony on Tuesday, Giroux confirmed that Joel was a suspect and they were investigating him on charges relating to property destruction. The Assistant U.S. Attorney said that the original complaint against Joel—which details the charges—was prepared in October 2011. Canadian authorities then spent some time going through their image and video database from the G20, as well as obtaining Facebook posts that Joel allegedly made regarding the G20 summit in Canada, and submitted a request for extradition in October 2012 which jumpstarted a winding process involving the US Embassy in Washington DC, the State Department, and the Justice Department’s Office of International Affairs. It is worth noting that in this time period beginning in December 2010 up until his arrest in February 2013, Joel traveled overseas several times, and was not arrested, although he was stopped by the Department of Homeland Security and questioned. Joel’s response was that they should speak to his lawyer.
Establishing this timeline of events took up the longest part of the proceedings, and there was much back-and-forth between the Assistant U.S. Attorney—who opposed bail, pressed US legal obligations in respect to treaties with Canada, and claimed that the allegations against Joel, which mostly relate to property damage, are extraditable offenses that endangered Canadian citizens—and Joel’s current attorney, Philip Weinstein—who argued several special circumstances (such as delay, the political nature of the charges, and community ties) that allow for bail in extradition cases. After some consideration, Judge Gorenstein granted bail on the basis of the special circumstance of “delay” (it had been over two years since Det. Sgt. Giroux had spoken with Martin Stolar, and alleged Joel’s involvement) and acknowledged Joel’s low risk of flight. The stipulations of the bail are steep: Joel was granted bail to the tune of $500,000—a little tit-for-tat—as well as house arrest with electronic monitoring. He was released into the custody of his parents on Wednesday, February 20th. His next court date—which is his actual extradition hearing—is currently scheduled for March 20th.
For those who may be unfamiliar, the G20 is a collection of finance ministers and central bank governors from nineteen powerful countries plus the European Union—along with representatives of international financial institutions. At G20 “summits” these figures are joined by top politicians to discuss their ongoing exploitation of the planet, its people and resources. Downtown Toronto was placed under heavy police control during the summit and protesters were arbitrarily arrested and held in a large film-studio, that was converted into a prison, specifically for the purpose of crushing dissent. It is well known that many were brutalized, insulted, or sexually humiliated by Canadian police, outraging large sectors of Canadian society. Protest organizers were attacked by police in their homes, arrested and charged for attending meetings and discussing protest plans.
The extradition of a protester for property damage is almost unprecedented in the histories of both the United States and Canada. Considering that state repression has been ratcheted ever higher in both countries over the past several years, this latest development comes with little surprise. Governments claim that property damage somehow endangers the lives of citizens, all the while their police and military forces brutalize and kill people at home and abroad that they deem undesirable—non-citizens. As long as there are states—and international summits of states—there will be protest and revolt by the non-citizens of the world. We are in solidarity with Joel Bitar—who is a friend, a son, a nephew, a Palestine solidarity activist, a co-worker, a prospective nursing student, and a real person whose life cannot be categorized so easily into the familiar tropes. The US and Canadian governments want to call him a criminal, and eventually, an inmate. We fight this legal process and will support Joel throughout this predicament. Joel’s case may be unique, but state repression is not. We are in solidarity with all comrades who face state repression, especially those in jail from G20 protest charges in Canada and the Pacific Northwest Grand Jury Resisters here in the US.
More updates as necessary.