THE DEMOCRATIC REPORTER
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* Hazel McCallion - Mayor of Mississauga *
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National Post - July 28, 2007, Saturday - By Joseph Brean
'Pothole poet' found guilty of death threat
BRAMPTON - Antonio Batista, the 75-year-old "pothole poet" of Mississauga, was found guilty yesterday of uttering a death threat against Pat Saito, a local councillor who Mr. Batista thought was ignoring his complaints about a tax bill. A separate charge of intimidation was stayed.
Written in verse, the threat was the last few stanzas of a poem, a half-dozen typewritten copies of which Mr. Batista posted on mail-boxes around his neighbourhood last year, with a small photograph of Ms. Saito he had clipped from the newspaper. He added the caption, "Do you know her?"
"We are going to dig a pothole about six feet long and three feet wide and five feet deep to hide her body and God will take care of Her Soul, but We can not forgive her for doing nothing," his poem reads in part.
Mr. Batista, a retired auto worker who once served in the Portuguese army and drove streetcars in Lisbon before coming to Canada in 1964, was given a conditional discharge so he will not have a criminal record, and placed on a year's probation, with an order to keep away from Ms. Saito.
"People are going to be afraid to speak strongly and satirically about their councillors and the jobs they do. People are going to have to cope with that chilling effect," said Clayton Ruby, the civil rights lawyer who represented Mr. Batista. His defence centred on the testimony of his witness, Dennis Duffy, professor emeritus of English at the University of Toronto, who explained satire and situated Mr. Batista in the tradition of the great satirists, from Aristophanes through Alexander Pope, Jonathan Swift, Margaret Atwood and Mordecai Richler.
"Quite generally speaking, many of the great satires are in foul taste, and that is where they get their effect," Prof. Duffy testified at the trial in May.
In his ruling yesterday, Judge James J. Keaney rejected Prof. Duffy's evidence, and noted that Mr. Batista, whose grasp on English is loose, testified he does not even know what satire is.
He did not issue written reasons, but said that while intentional jest is a plausible defence for a death threat charge, and satire is a form of jest, "unintended satiric comment" cannot amount to a jest under the law.
"If you understand that, you understand it more than I do," Mr. Ruby said.
Both he and Mr. Batista said they would appeal. Outside the courthouse in Brampton, Mr. Batista said he has written other poems, including a tribute to Princess Diana, describing her as "a good lady" who should never have married Prince Charles.
He described his guilty verdict as a "dark" decision.
"I was never a criminal," he said. "My intention was just to call attention from the residents, just making them know that Pat Saito was not doing her job. She didn't deserve that job," he said.
The dispute has its origins in a tax increase for Mr. Batista's neighbourhood, which resulted in homeowners being charged a full year's tax for new homes they had lived in for only a few months. The difference was to be repaid by the builder.
Mr. Batista had registered frequent complaints with Ms. Saito's office over neighbourhood maintenance issues, but became especially irate about the tax bill, and spoke at length on the phone with her staff. After a written response was accidentally not mailed, and he learned Ms. Saito had recently been on vacation, he wrote his poem. He was particularly inspired by a joke she once made to a local newspaper, that potholes are good for road safety because they make drivers slow down.
A traffic officer found a copy of the poem and brought it to Ms. Saito, whose staff called police according to their policy. A detective would later find four more copies on nearby bus shelters or mailboxes. Last November, as an act of protest, both Mr. Batista and his son Joe ran in a local election against Ms. Saito and lost.
Ms. Saito, who studied English literature at the University of Waterloo, called it a "fair judgment" on a poem that went "way beyond satire."
"I'm not going to risk my safety and my family's safety based on an assumption that this was meant in jest or satire," she said. "I still feel some trepidation over the whole thing. He was a very angry man."
PARKED CARS AND POTHOLES IN THE CITY OF MISSISSAUGA
Pat pot, patch pot look here look there pat pot, patch pot there is a car parked here there is a car parked in there.
This kept a Good-looking old Lady away from her working place and by looking at potholes She thought about about doing nothing and winning the Race
There She marched back and forth one two, one two one two three four one two, three four one two, three four
But on Her way back to her working place She got lost on the fog and could not keep up
with the running traffic and She lost the race.
When She got to Churchill Meadows She was out off the Race But She was too far behind in Her work, and without thinking
She backed up and without making Sure that it was safe to do so She provoked a big accident
Now this bad driver that We only know as Pat Saito who run away from that accident
site is going to think twice before backing up and looking
at potholes instead of doing Her job
We are going to dig a pothole about six feet long and three feet wide and five feet deep to hide her body and God will take care of Her Soul, but We can not 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. --Antonio Batista
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