The Crown must prosecute Esteban Torres in Premier Philippe Couillard case

In the aftermath of an alleged assault on the premier of Quebec Thursday evening at a vigil in Montreal for the victims of a homophobic massacre in Orlando, some people have taken to social media demanding that the charges be dropped. I say “alleged assault” because the individual charged, Esteban Torres, 20, has pleaded “not guilty” and the presumption of innocence must be maintained, no matter what the world has seen in news coverage of the incident at the vigil.

Torres’s supporters seem to agree that he threw a crumpled piece of paper in the direction of Premier Philippe Couillard while shouting something about “revolution” — but it was only a piece of paper and doesn’t warrant charges, they say.

Some are directing their comments at the premier, asking him to drop the charges. They may be unaware that the premier has nothing to do with the charges that have been brought against Torres. It’s the Crown’s decision on whether to prosecute, and it really has no choice in this matter, in my opinion — even if it only was a harmless piece of paper thrown at Premier Couillard.

First, about assault: merely touching an individual can bring about an assault charge if it was done with any sort of malice, in the opinion of the Crown. In Torres’s case, he is being charged with assault with a weapon (along with criminal mischief), in this case, probably the crumpled piece of paper. Sure, it doesn’t seem like much of a weapon, but it was an object allegedly thrown at the premier, and who knew what was inside or on that crumpled ball of paper?

In those frightening moments, in a crowd of thousands with the premier of Quebec just a few feet away from Torres, no one except Torres may have known with any certainty if it was merely a piece of paper or something much worse, perhaps a piece of paper containing an explosive device or that had been previously soaked in a deadly chemical.

It certainly seemed like it might be an act of terror to many people who were frightened when it happened. One only needs to see the news coverage of the incident to witness the expressions of horror in the faces of some people there, including that of federal Heritage minister Mélanie Joly. At that moment, one can well imagine that many feared a Montreal massacre was about to take place, with them the victims.

And this all happened on a day when many around the world were mourning the assassination of Jo Cox, a British MP killed in the streets of London by a man seemingly upset with her stance on the impending Brexit vote.

As well, on that Thursday, the trial of Richard Henry Bain continued to unfold in a Montreal court. Bain is accused of killing Denis Blanchette and injuring David Courage, two people working at the election night headquarters of the Parti Québécois in 2012, where premier-elect Pauline Marois — the first female ever elected premier — was addressing an audience of PQ supporters. Bain’s alleged actions — he, too, shouted revolutionary slogans — made that day one of the darkest in Quebec’s history.

And, of course, Torres’s alleged assault was committed during a vigil mourning the deaths of 49 people in an act of violence committed by one individual in Orlando. The participants of the Montreal vigil were emotional and vulnerable, and no doubt many of them were on edge, as so many in LGBTQ communities around the world are these days.

Considering all of the above, Torres may consider himself fortunate that he wasn’t shot by security officials on Thursday night, and that he hasn’t been charged with terrorism. Indeed, in other countries — the United States, Russia, Egypt, Iran, China, etc. — the policy is often to shoot first and ask questions later when similar incidents unfold.

And while Torres, if found guilty by a Quebec court, would probably receive a suspended sentence along with a fine, in other countries he might do some very hard time or, worse, be sentenced to death (i.e. Egypt).

Torres reportedly associates with an anti-capitalist group calling itself the Pink Bloc. That is obviously a concern for the Crown, which has ordered Torres not to contact anyone in the Pink Bloc while the trial process continues. They have also ordered Torres to undergo a psychiatric evaluation, perhaps because they want to know if he truly understands the consequences of his alleged actions. And also, perhaps, to see if he might become a violent radical in the years to come, graduating from crumpled paper to guns and bombs.

Perhaps they are trying to nip this in the bud. Perhaps they are trying to do Torres a favour.

They also need people to know that it is not OK to throw things at politicians, or anyone else, for that matter. Because if it was OK to throw crumpled paper balls at them, where would you draw the line on what can and can’t be thrown?

And, finally, there is this: What might be the ripple effects of Torres’s alleged actions? Might those actions inspire someone else to “assault” a politician, especially if the Crown chose not to prosecute Torres? Might it inspire acts of terrorism in the streets, at other vigils etc.?

The Crown has no choice. It has to prosecute Esteban Torres. And he can be sure he will get a fair trial in Quebec, and that the punishment will fit the crime if he is found guilty.

— Jillian

P.S. Comments are closed for this post because this case is before the courts.