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Mississauga News - May 29, 2007 - By John Stewart
No evidence senior intended to kill councillor: lawyer
The prosecution of a 75-year-old Mississauga man for allegedly uttering a death threat against a City councillor, “is a very significant one for the values underlying the right of freedom of expression, which is one of our most important traditions,” famed criminal lawyer Clayton Ruby told a Brampton court today.
In his closing argument this morning in the trial of Churchill Meadows resident Antonio Batista, the Toronto lawyer argued there is no evidence that his client actually intended to kill Ward 9 Councillor Pat Saito.
“It is poetry. It is satire. And it has a political context,” Ruby told Justice J.J. Keaney as the two-day trial concluded. The judge reserved judgment in the case until the last week of July.
“You have before you an utterance which is clearly a political expression,” said Ruby, who has a long history of defending clients who push the limits of free expression. “Do not be quick to draw criminality into political expression. Your job is to protect that kind of speech.”
Batista was charged in February 2006 with uttering death threats and intimidation after he postered his neighbourhood with a poem that expressed his frustration with Saito, who made a facetious remark in an article in The Mississauga News about potholes slowing down traffic.
Batista, who ran unsuccessfully for councillor against Saito last fall to protest his arrest, was charged after resident Neil Lawrence was “shocked” by a section of the work that suggested Saito would be buried in a pothole.
The pivotal section of the poem, as written by Batista, states: “We are going to dig a pothole about six feet and 3 feet wide and 5 feet deep to hide her body and God will take care of Her Soul, but we cannot forgive her for doing nothing. She can keep running at a good pace but We will make sure that She is in HEAVEN and out of the race. So please GOD take care of this SOUL for ever and EVER.”
Crown Attorney Jennifer Goulin said nobody is questioning Batista’s right to criticize Saito or to write a poem about her.
“But in this case, the threat went too far,” she said.
The threat may be implied, “but it is not too much of a leap to see that digging a pothole...is analagous to digging a grave and saying that she will have to go to heaven” is a threat of death.
The test of conviction is, “whether the words convey a threat of serious bodily harm to a reasonable person.”
Goulin argued that Lawrence, a parking officer with the City of Toronto, “reacted as a reasonable person would” when he became alarmed by the poem and warned Saito’s office about it. The issue was then referred to police and charges were laid.
The threat was published after consideration, noted the crown, not in the heat of the moment.
“The fact that there is a political context does not make that more acceptable.”
Goulin told court that “there is still a need to send a message that it is not okay” to make threats, even if the recipient is an elected official.
Ruby took exception to that argument, saying it implied that a conviction should be registered as a deterrent to others when it is not necessarily justified in this case. “We don’t use the criminal law in this way,” he said.
On Monday, Saito testified that she was rattled by Batista’s words when her staff read the poem to her over the telephone.
“To me, it was extremely concerning and very frightening,” Saito said.
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