Judge made assault seem like ‘bar fight,’ advocate says

Pro-Palestinian protesters attack a pro-Israel rallier last July 18 in Calgary. THOMAS MOORE PHOTO

The Calgary Jewish Federation is disappointed with the tone the court took at the sentencing of three pro-Palestinian protesters who pleaded guilty to assault after a Calgary demonstration turned violent last summer.

The statement of facts agreed on by both the Crown and prosecution seemed to treat the assault as a “bar fight,” said Jeffrey Smith, chairman of the community relations committee of the Calgary Jewish Federation.

“This is not a bar fight. This was an assault on a peaceful group. It was almost an attack on Canadian values of freedom of expression and freedom of association.”

Aziz Mohammed Madi, Arlsan Khan and Kamaal Maxamud Jaamac all pleaded guilty to one charge of assault each earlier this week in court.

They were placed on probation for a year and fined between $300 and $500. The three men were also ordered to write letters of apology and to write essays on the Charter rights to freedom of expression and association.

A young offender who was also involved in the attack was sentenced in January to probation and community service.

The charges stem from a rally for Gaza held July 18 outside Calgary City Hall during the Israeli incursion into Gaza.

About a dozen pro-Israel supporters were at the rally, which attracted hundreds of pro-Palestinian supporters.

The agreed statement of facts described the incident “as a minor assault during a time of heated tensions between two groups,” Smith said.

“The implication is that the counter-demonstrators provoked it somehow.  The pro-Gaza demonstrators came across the street and just attacked and assaulted three of the individuals physically. There’s no justification for that, and it’s almost justified [by the statement].”

Judy Shapiro, associate executive director of the Calgary Jewish Federation, who was an observer at the July 18 rally, told The CJN last summer that a group of pro-Palestinian protesters “crossed over from the demonstration to the other side of the street and literally swarmed them. They surrounded them. They were up against a building, so there was nowhere to go and they were beaten up.”

One person suffered a concussion and others were punched in the face and stomach.

The Calgary Jewish Federation filed a victim impact statement with the court, but it was not admitted, because the court held that an organization could not file this type of evidence.

The three men were young and first offenders, Judge Marlene Graham acknowledged, the Calgary Sun reported. Still, she said, “it’s aggravating that you would engage in physical altercations that would undermine our Charter values.”

Smith said the judge’s order that the men write about human rights “obliquely” recognized the larger issues in the case.

The Calgary Jewish Federation had no formal comment on the severity of the sentences, Smith said.

“I did not think there would be serious sentences,” he added. “I did think there should be a recognition of the underlying political nature of the attack.”