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Ex-Red River student prez gets discharge in obstruction case

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A Red River College Students' Association president who was ousted from office following his arrest during an Occupy Winnipeg demonstration has been granted an absolute discharge for obstruction of a police officer.

Garrett Gorden Meisner, 21, escaped having the blemish of a criminal record Tuesday after a judge ruled his offending conduct during a Sept. 17, 2012, skirmish with police at Portage Avenue near Edmonton Street was not at the "higher end" of the scale and putting the sentence outside the public's interest.

"I'm satisfied that Mr. Meisner will not reoffend," Associate Chief provincial court Judge Janice leMaistre said. "Mr. Meisner in no way set out that day to interfere with or obstruct police."

Meisner was part of a group of 80-100 Occupy Winnipeg demonstrators who set off on an unlicensed and unplanned march from the Legislature and east up Portage Avenue around 5:45 p.m.

Police elected to step in after the marchers — who included elderly people and a mom pushing a child in a stroller — caused a small collision and traipsed through an intersection on a red light.

Two constables and a patrol sergeant tried to locate the leader of the protest to ask them to move the march off the street, and settled on a woman carrying a megaphone.

When the woman "went limp" as they tried to move her to the sidewalk. The officers then found themselves suddenly surrounded by the crowd after a cry of, "circle around them!," went up, court heard.

In the words of the sergeant, the crowd "began to swarm us… yelling pushing and swearing," the Crown told leMaistre.

The sergeant — a 23-year veteran — said he was "forcibly pushed" from behind by a tall man later identified as Meisner. Meisner admits he grabbed the officer's ballistic vest and jostled with him, prompting officers to turn their focus onto him and take him into custody.

He suffered a "full-blown" panic attack while being placed over the trunk of a cruiser car during his arrest and had a seizure, court heard. Some believed he had been Tasered by police, but this wasn't true.

Meisner was arrested and released in short order, but suspended from his job as the RRCSA's president the next day, eventually being removed entirely.

Defence lawyer Danny Gunn said Meisner, who has Asperger's syndrome and has struggled with depression and anxiety, became overwhelmed by the circumstances he was suddenly in.

"He had to close his eyes because there was just too much information coming in and the panic attack set in," said Gunn.

Meisner presented to the court several letters from supporters who spoke to his good character and reputation for being a "gentle giant with a sense of humour."

He's "backed away entirely" from participating in protest marches, court heard, but still continues to volunteer his time for social causes. Since his arrest, Meisner has completed many hours of community service work and made a charitable donation to a Winnipeg cause dedicated to sustainable food options.

"If I could go back, we wouldn't be here," Meisner told leMaistre. "I was young and stupid."

james.turner@freepress.mb.ca

 

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