G20 defendant George Horton was sentenced to 10 months in jail on September 28 for assaulting and intimidating a police officer during the riots that broke on that June 2010 weekend.
Reading her verdict at Old City Hall courthouse just after noon, Ontario Court Justice Beverly Brown chided the 24-year-old Peterborough photographer for setting off on a “path of destruction” that saw him hit a CBC van and another police car with a wooden stake, throw “an object” at a Tim Hortons, and his most serious offence: kicking a cruiser that had an officer inside—twice.
On Saturday, June 26 of that weekend, Toronto Police Staff Sgt. Graham Queen had been inside his car near Queen Street and Spadina Avenue when it was surrounded by angry protesters, including Horton. Queen had already been struck in the back of the head by a wooden post wielded by a protester, although Horton has never been accused of that assault.
In previous statements, Horton has said he became upset after seeing police violently clash with protesters earlier that day. He has since apologized for his actions.
To much snickering from a courtroom packed with Horton’s friends and supporters—young people in leather jackets, hooded sweatshirts and various incarnations of bedhead—the judge reminded the defendant that violence is an ineffective way to deal with displeasure.
“People must understand that they can not express their frustrations the way George Horton did,” said Brown. “This court will send a message that this will be condoned in Canada.”
As she read the sentence, Brown was often overshadowed by mumbles, coughs and other displays of displeasure from the gallery. Horton’s supporters made no secret of their disdain for and distrust in police, who—along with some protesters—have been accused of impropriety and unwarranted attacks during the summit weekend.
At one point, a man sitting near Staff Sgt. Queen and Det. Sgt. Gary Giroux became suddenly agitated, standing up and yelling “Go fuck yourself!” before he appeared to be shoved into a wall by one of the officers. As he was being escorted out of the courtroom, several other audience members followed suit, yelling insults at the police and judge, briefly turning the proceedings into an angry critique of the court system.
“Your eyes are closed, your ears are closed, your heart is closed,” yelled Zach Ruiter, the filmmaker behind the short documentary George Horton: Life as a G20 defendant, which had previously been shown in court as evidence against Horton. Then, inexplicably, “Your career is over!”
By the end of the fracas, about a dozen people had been expelled from the courtroom. For some time afterward, chanting and singing could be heard wafting in from the hallways. A few times, someone banged on the room’s doors from the outside.
After initially pleading innocent, Horton was found guilty of assaulting a peace officer and intimidation of a justice system participant. He pleaded guilty to wearing a disguise and three counts of mischief.
In addition to the jail time, Horton will also face two years of probation and mandatory anger management counselling. Unlike many people convicted for protest-related activities, he will be allowed to attend demonstrations once he is out of jail, but was ordered not to wear a mask.
Brown emphasized that although Horton was part of a group, he was being punished only for his own actions. If that is the case, Horton’s girlfriend Jen Brethour doesn’t see how the conviction for assaulting a police officer is even possible, seeing as Horton only came in contact with the car, not Queen.
“The assault charge is really kind of crazy,” she said, moments after her partner has been escorted away in handcuffs. “Property damage is not violence… George is by no means a threat to anyone. I wholeheartedly believe he didn’t see the officer.”
Brethour said Horton plans to appeal.
For his part, Queen said he thought the judge was considerate and fair in her sentencing.
“I thought the judge was learned and thorough,” he told OpenFile. “I accept the sentence.”
Described by friends outside the courtroom as gentle and “a good guy,” the defendant seemed a bit bewildered that jail time was even being considered.
“I kicked a cop car in anger and (the Crown wanted) to give me a sentence of 18 months plus three years probation,” Horton said during a break in proceedings, before the verdict was announced. “I was naïve.”
Defence lawyer Ryan Clements, who had asked for a sentence of eight months, depicted the G20 Saturday protests as a kind rarely seen, and suggested that Horton’s lack of previous criminal record should factor into a lenient sentence.
“Mr. Horton’s conduct can only be considered acting out of character in exceptional circumstances,” Clements told the court, prior to the sentence being handed down.
Once the sentence was read, the courtroom erupted in cheers of “we love you, George” as the new convict was led out of the courtroom in handcuffs. Just before he was out the door, he managed to say some final words to his friends.
“Make sure you tell the media I’m cool,” he yelled.