TORONTO (CUP) – Derek Soberal stands along a police barrier with a crowd in
Nathan Phillips Square as a part of a January protest against Toronto
budget cuts. Holding a small camera, he films the scene as tension grows
between the protesters and police.
The situation erupts as a protester attempts to break through the line. In
the ensuing chaos, a police officer knocks Soberal's camera down and
punches him in the face before stomping on the camera. However, when
Soberal crosses the police barrier in an attempt to retrieve his camera, he
is arrested and charged with unlawful assembly, mischief, and two counts of
obstructing a police officer.
A photo in the Toronto Sun shows Soberal in handcuffs, bruised and bloody.
He quotes Martin Luther King, Jr. in rationalizing why he went over the
police barrier to retrieve his camera, containing potential evidence of the
alleged assault: "I submit that an individual who breaks a law that
conscience tells him is unjust, and who willingly accepts the penalty of
imprisonment in order to arouse the conscience of the community over its
injustice, is in reality expressing the highest respect for the law."
Soberal has gone from being unable to recite his phone number without
stuttering to being a prominent voice of the Toronto protest scene,
featured on the CBC's Lang and O'Leary Exchange and credited in a G20
edition of The Fifth Estate. He also created an activist-based YouTube
channel, TheSecretStore, with over 5,000 subscribers and 3.5 million upload
views, as well as the 35,000-member Occupy Canada Facebook page.
But January's budget protest was not Soberal's first run-in with Toronto
police. His life as an activist and citizen journalist started with the
2010 G20 protests and Ryerson's now-defunct CKLN radio station's Word of
Mouth Wednesday program.
"Basically, I got involved because of the G20 summit," says Soberal. "That
was my first protest … and I exercised my rights at that time. I got
invited onto the show by [host] Daniel Libby to talk about the experience."
He would become a regular on Libby's show, eventually earning the title of
"Derek is attracted to media attention," says Libby. "He's not afraid to
talk to reporters when they're around."
His ability to speak on the radio and communicate with the media is a
hard-earned skill – from the time he was a toddler until his teens, Soberal
underwent speech therapy. Today, he speaks with near-perfect clarity,
pausing occasionally if his stutter starts to creep back in.
He says this ability to speak publicly is inspired by Libby: "[Libby] was
confident on the radio, and my voice was cracking the first time," Soberal
says. "I learned from him."
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