Ottawa Drops Charges Against Panhandler Organizer

From the Industrial Worker

Shortly before midnight on April 30, 2008, police arrested Ottawa IWW Panhandlers’ Union organizer Andrew Nellis and searched his bag. Inside the bag, they found several packaged locks and a lock cutter. They charged him with mischief under $5,000 and possession of break and enter tools, the latter a felony charge.

Police alleged that he planned to cut the lock off of a recently constructed fence built in the underpass on Rideau and Sussex streets in downtown Ottawa to prevent the homeless from taking shelter, socializing, and panhandling there. The underpass was the site of previous panhandler protests and meetings.

Nellis told the Industrial Worker that he wanted to replace the city’s lock with a panhandlers’ lock and then distribute key copies to Ottawa’s homeless at the May Day rally the next day.

Prosecutors have since dropped all of the charges.
Nellis’ attorney had pushed for a jury trial and said he would file a constitutional challenge to the City of Ottawa’s right to strip access to shelter on public property from its homeless population. The city had previously fenced off spots under the Mackenzie bridge near a mall and the Rideau Street-Colonel By Drive underpass.

Nellis said he was “disappointed” that the city had dropped the charges against him. He is now planning to sue the City of Ottawa for “vexatious harassment” and false arrest. Nellis spent five days at the Ottawa-Carleton Detention Centre on Innes Road, a prison well known for its poor conditions. Nellis organized the prisoners to protest their “inhumane” conditions, resulting in citywide and national media coverage. The combined inside-outside pressure resulted in immediate improvements for prisoners.

He has petitioned the IWW General Defence Committee Local 6, based in Ottawa, for support in raising funds for his legal fees. To donate, send a cheque or money order to GDC Local 6, PO Box 52003, 298 Dalhousie St., Ottawa, Ontario K1N 1S0, Canada.