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Police shut down critic

Paul Barnsley, Windspeaker Staff Writer, Saskatoon

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Criminal charges were filed against Metis activist John Melenchuk after he was arrested during a protest outside a community police station in Saskatoon on Aug. 29.

Just three days before two major inquiries into justice-related matters were set to begin, the vocal critic of the police, and of the province's justice system in general, was charged with mischief over $5,000. The charge was based on an allegation that Melenchuk's protest interfered with the operation of a business near the Little Chief community policing station in the area of Saskatoon known as "the 'hood." The business he is alleged to have interfered with is a provincially-owned Saskatchewan Liquor Board store.

A second indictable offense was added because the activist wears a mask during his protests.

In order to be released from custody, he was required to sign an undertaking promising not to wear a mask or any disguise, not to possess any device designed to amplify his voice and to stay away from an address on 20th St. West.

"This is a way to shut me up," he told Windspeaker after he was released.

He said he was protesting against the actions of senior police officers in the city to draw attention to matters that were to be dealt with in the two legal actions.

The inquest into the death of Neil Stonechild, a 17-year-old Native youth who was found frozen to death on the outskirts of the city after last being seen in the back of a police car, started Sept. 3, as did the wrongful prosecution civil action launched by Peter Klassen, who served four years in jail after police bungled an investigation into fantastic allegations of sexual assault made against him by a troubled young boy. It was expected that the actions of members of the Saskatoon Police Service would come into question in both proceedings.

"They'll have to prove that I had intent to damage the liquor board. If they lost $5,000 I want to see the records that show how that day differed in comparison to other days. I'm going to put them under the microscope," said Melenchuk, who will represent himself in court. "These charges are going to get dropped. This is just until my court five months down the road; they're going to keep me shut up. That's how they use the system."

Melenchuk said it was "ridiculous" to state that he caused a loss of business of more than $5,000 during an 80-minute protest.

"An hour and 20 minutes and they say I caused $5,000 damage," he said. "That's 250 paying customers [who were prevented from entering the liquor store] at the minimum and probably way more than that. A lot of these people in this neighborhood panhandle for hours just to buy a bottle of Baby Duck. And the liquor store is kitty corner across the street from Little Chief. I'm not even in front of the store. I'm across the street."

He claimed he was later charged in relation to another protest at city hall, but the charge was thrown out.

He added that he had conducted more than 20 protests over the last three years and wondered why he hadn't been charged then.

Several legal sources, who asked not to be named, said the Criminal Code prohibition against wearing a mask while committing an indictable offense was designed to prevent criminals from escaping prosecution by hiding their identity.

Melenchuk is well-known to police in the city. He said the arresting officer called him by name when he approached the activist to inform him he was under arrest.

While Melenchuk said he believes the police have stretched the meaning of a couple of Criminal Code sections in an attempt to make trouble for him, Inspector Lorne Constantinoff, public affairs officer with the Saskatoon City Police, denied that charge.

"That is not the position of the police department at all. Mr. Melenchuk has been protesting for quite some time and we've had conversations with him, indicated to him that when we act upon these things, it's not the police department acting on our own behalf. When it comes to charges like dsturbance, mischief, things like that, the police department is not the complainant. We receive the complaint from a concerned citizen. We evaluate the basis of their complaint and then interpret that to charges related in the Criminal Code," he said.

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