Scanned, recopied or Internet copy, if there are errors, please e-mail me with corrections:
Opening comments: More at the end.
"Unfortunately for Batista, who has been in poor health, the judge’s decision was delayed for two months. The stress on him and his wife was clearly evident during the trial." Yes this is the IRONY it is likely that Ward 9 Councillor Pat Saito is in fact knowingly digging Antonio Batista grave!
To the web-page with the list of articles regarding this matter.
May 30, 2007 in Random Access - John Stewart's BLOG
A pothole never loomed so large
Sorry about the blog hiatus, but for the past two days, I have been in Courtroom 105 at Davis Court in Brampton watching the best reality show in town.
At the close of proceedings yesterday, Mr. Justice James J. Keaney, defence attorney Clayton Ruby and crown counsel Jennifer Goulin exchanged comments about how much they had enjoyed the experience. Such pleasantries are often obligatory and perfunctory, but in this case, they seemed entirely genuine.
Would have been even more pleasurable if there hadn’t been such critical principles at stake.
It was, of course, the case of the pothole poet, Antonio Batista, who is charged with the very serious offence of uttering a death threat against Ward 9 Councillor Pat Saito.
The defence cast the piece as a comedy, with the big bad state bringing its full weight to bear on a 75-year-old immigrant with prostate cancer, who was so frustrated with the slow response of his councillor to his various communications that he sat down and wrote a satirical poem in the fine tradition of Jonathan Swift and Alexander Pope, writers the defendant had never heard of. In fact, as we learned from his own mouth, Mr. Batista only learned what satire was when his famed criminal lawyer told him that would be the foundation of his defence.
Ruby’s star witness was esteemed Professor Emeritus Dennis Duffy who has a long and distinguished history as both a student and professor at U of T since 1961. His testimony — which will only be put on the record if the judge agrees to admit it when he passes sentence in late July — was that Batista’s free verse called Parked Cars and Potholes in the City of Mississauga may have been rudimentary and unsophisticated but was in the long and honourable tradition of hurling brickbats at our leaders. That goes back to the days when Aristophanes first told the world what an airhead Socrates was.
Asked if Batista’s literary allusion to a giant pothole that would make a nice welcome mat for Saito’s body should be taken as a serious threat, Duffy replied, “I wouldn’t think so.” It’s almost like political cartooning where you take one person’s feature and exaggerate it to ridiculous lengths, the professor said. Duffy said absence of satire is a sure sign of oligarchical tyranny and noted that tongue-in-cheek dissenters who posted criticism of the Stalinist regime literally risked their lives to do so.
“Would you agree with me that Ward 9 in Mississauga is not in the Soviet Union?” asked crown lawyer Goulin in a question during cross-examination that had a certain satirical intent of its own.
The trial was like watching a tough, magical football game where both teams play their best and the outcome comes down to the last second.
A video of the interview that Peel Regional Police Detective John Mans of 11 division did with Batista when he was arrested Feb. 2, 2006 was a microcosm of the trial itself. At one point Mans asks a very evasive Batista the same question that Mr. Justice Keaney must answer: is the man who wrote this poem just somebody who was frustrated and wanted to take a verbal shot at Saito or did he really want to hurt her?
Ruby’s case rested firmly on his excellent closing argument, in which he invoked the Charter and cited cases where acquittals have been granted for words that threaten death much more directly.
“Governments are accountable through elections and not the courts,” he said, quoting from an earlier judgment. “Litigation is a form of force and government must not silence its critics by force. We have to be careful to protect a citizen’s right to criticize in public.”
Goulin more than held her own against her famous counterpart, concentrating on the burden of proof required: that a “reasonable person” would find Batista’s remarks to be a threat. Resident Neil Lawrence — designated the “reasonable person” of the case by the crown, certainly found them so. When he read the poem Batista had posted on a community mail box, he immediately notified Saito’s office because of his alarm.
In arguing against admitting Duffy’s testimony, Goulin said, “if we need an expert to understand that (the poem) was satire, then the reasonable person test fails.” In her cross-examination of the defendant, Goulin was able to establish some important points. While Batista wrote, phoned and chased Saito and her staff for answers, he didn’t follow up in the same vociferous way to his unanswered letter to Mayor Hazel McCallion on many of the same issues. He testified that was because the mayor is 86-years-old and a very busy lady.
Batista did not know the name of the councillor who now represents him in Ward 10 either. In response to several of Goulin’s questions, he launched into a harangue about how Saito had failed to provide drinking fountains and washrooms in local parks, as they have in Toronto. His personal animosity to Saito was more than evident.
Most effectively though, Goulin simply read the offending words from the poem, which state that “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.”
Any reasonable person who read those words would have understood that they threatened death and would have been fearful, Goulin argued. Elected officials have the same right to be free of intimidation as anyone else.
Unfortunately for Batista, who has been in poor health, the judge’s decision was delayed for two months. The stress on him and his wife was clearly evident during the trial.
Even if he is convicted, it is highly unlikely that the crown will ask for jail time for Batista, and Saito has said that is the last thing that she wants.
Ruby has already indicated that if he does not get the acquittal he expects, he will appeal the ruling.
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