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Litton activists in largest political group trial ever

Paula Rochman — March 1984

TORONTO – The group trial of 63 persons arrested last November for trespassing at Litton Systems (Canada) during the Week of Resistance and Remembrance began in Toronto on February 13. It was the largest political group trial ever heard in Canada.

All defendants either pleaded not guilty or entered a creative plea, such as pleading for peace on Earth, an end to the arms race or dignity of the law. One defendant pleaded not guilty by reason of sanity.

To avoid irrelevant and drawn-out legalistic arguments, the. defendants had previously acknowledged that they had crossed over the fence in front of Litton, and that arrests were made in a ‘technically’ correct manner (e.g., people were read their rights and were told they were arrested).

Instead of challenging the arrests, arguments made to the court were based on principle and on the convictions of the defendants that their actions were just and necessary.

Some argued that, as people with a religious and moral conscience, they were obliged to follow the laws of God, and that Divine obedience had forced them into a situation of civil disobedience. One cannot love thy enemy when tools of war and of destruction are being built, they said. Nor can one hope to obey the commandment that ‘thou shalt not kill,’ knowing that the use of the cruise missile was intended to cause death and suffering to millions.

Parents testified about having to face their children’s nightmares about the fear of not growing up because of a nuclear war.

Youth and students spoke- about their future being taken away from them because of the uncertain fate that looms over us as a result of the current military build-up.

Some defendants pointed out that history demonstrates that civilian inaction and government complacency often result in violence and suffering as power becomes concentrated in the hands of a few.

Others testified that Litton is allegedly acting in violation of the~ Canadian Criminal Code by producing an explosive device or component thereof in Canada. They also argued that the giving of materials (i.e. the guidance system) to an agent of a foreign government, is an act of treason in that it will threaten Canadians. These allegations had previously been made to a Justice of the Peace, who chose not to investigate the evidence presented.

In addition to personal testimonies, an unsuccessful attempt was made to call ‘expert’ witnesses. Phillip Berrigan, anti-war activist, author of five books, dozens of journal articles, and twice a’ nominee for the Nobel Peace Prize, was not considered an ‘expert’ by the court, and thus testified as a character witness.

Berrigan testified that the defendants were morally compelled to resist the actions of Litton in the manner they had. Furthermore, under the Nuremburg Principle, citizens have an obligation to act when crimes are being committed by the state.

Dr. Rosalie Bertell, an acknowledged expert on the health effects of low-level radiation, was not allowed to testify as the. court ruled that information about the effects of a nuclear war were irrelevant to. the charges.

Setsuko Thurlow, a survivor of Hiroshima, was not allowed to testify since, according to the prosecutor, the court wasn’t there to listen. to “interesting stories.” The next day a telegram was read into the record from a number of Hiroshima survivors, who stated that they supported the actions of the Litton defendants, and that their situation made for more than an “interesting story.”

Dr. Frank Sommers, member of Physicians for Social Responsibility, was allowed to testify about .the psychological effects …people now face as the result of living with the day-to-day threat of nuclear annihilation. To maintain sanity, he testified, people had to act.

The prosecution maintained that most of the testimonies were irrelevant, and that the only relevant point to address was what posed an immediate~ threat at the Litton plant on Friday November 18th, when the defendants were arrested. The prosecution and defendants differed over what constituted an immediate threat.

After summation by lawyers for the defendants and the prosecution, Justice of the Peace Paul Chandhoke decided to reserve judgement until February 22nd. On that day, all 63 of the defendants were found guilty under the trespassing act, and given fines’ of $75 each. Twelve of these 63…were also put on one year’s probation because, during their testimony, they had declared their continued commitment to further protests against Litton Systems (Canada).

On Monday, February 20th, a second trial began for a group of women who attempted to make a citizen’s arrest of Ronald Keating, President of Litton Systems (Canada). And Monday February 27th saw the commencement of a third trial involving the arrests at Litton of people protesting the company’s involvement in Latin America.