Tuesday, September 15, 2015

An Orwellian charge

There was a protest in Wellington over the TPPA, in which a group of protesters supposedly attempted to enter MFAT and gain a copy of the TPPA text, then occupied part of Lambton Quay. According to Stuff, they are being arrested. But the charge is an odd choice:

Dozens of protesters were arrested and dragged off a Wellington street as anti-TPPA protesters clashed with police.

It came as a group of about 50 protesters spent Tuesday trying to force their way into the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade headquarters on Lambton Quay in a bid to sieze TPPA documents.

At the scene Inspector Terry Van Dillen said the arrested protesters, who blocked off the harbour side lane of Lambton Quay, would likely be charged with trespass.

Which just seems Orwellian. Trespass is for private property, not public spaces. By definition it requires a violation of the rights of occupancy and ownership. It would be appropriate if anyone actually got into the building and then refused to leave (as opposed to e.g. filing a verbal OIA request with the reception staff and then leaving). But for sitting in a street? What next? Charging people with trespass for walking along the footpath without police permission?

The proper charge here is probably disorderly behaviour. But the problem for the police here is Brooker, which held that the interpretation of what is "disorderly" must be tempered by the BORA's affirmation of the right of freedom of expression, and this includes an appreciation of the right to protest (something which we have to respect in a free and democratic society even when it leads to some disruption). Clearly the police are trying to circumvent the Supreme Court's ruling by stretching a charge, and relying on their victims not to challenge it. But I hope that they do lodge a challenge, because the idea that public space is private property which some authoritarian in a blue uniform can eject you from because he doesn't like what you're saying is one that we should all resist and rebel against.