When it was first announced that the City of Toronto would host the 2010 G20 summit, the theme “Recovery and New Beginnings”, some Torontonians were proud to showcase the city to the world. The G20 summit is now over, world leaders are home and for the City of Toronto the cost of clean up is daunting; parts of the core city remain damaged and many questions linger regarding the police ‘reaction’ to the summit’s protesters.
Initially, over thousands of protesters took to the streets of downtown Toronto marching peacefully as an expression of dissent towards a 9 foot security fence erected to keep them from the site of the G20 meetings. It didn’t take long for the City to turn into frenzy dividing into security perimeters and designated spaces for free speech. On Saturday, the Integrated Security Unit (ISU), the police unit given the task of securing the G8 and G20 summit, was heavy criticized for allowing the ‘Black Bloc’, an anarchist group, to run amuck on the streets of Toronto, destroying property and setting police cars on fire.
By Sunday, the City of Toronto resembled a police state. Officers were cracking down hard on protesters. Tear gas was fired for a second straight day in a row. There were reports that throughout downtown Toronto - often areas distant from the G20 meetings - police were demanding identification, searching bags and conducting arbitrary detentions. Stories ranged from hundreds of people being detained at the Eastern Avenue film studio while they spent hours waiting for food, water, or a phone call for counsel to the lack of medical care, harassment and verbal and physical abuse by the police to the strip searching of females by male officers. All the while the ISU officers were citing the 5 metre rule to defend their actions.
On Monday, the focus shifted as thousands of demonstrators marched outside Toronto Police headquarters to protest what they said was excessive use of force, as well as mistreatment of individuals detained.
What exactly went wrong?
Overall opponents have criticized the choice of the summit’s location, the inaction of the policing of the rioters and the violation of peaceful protesters and innocent bystander’s rights.
In the last few days, it has become clear that not only did the provincial government place limits on civil liberties without informing the public, they appeared to turn a blind eye as the police abused their expanded powers.
On Friday, the story broke that the Ontario Cabinet gave the ISU the temporary power to stop and search anyone coming within 5 metres of the G20 security fence between June 21 and 28. For several days, most people were under the impression that the province which had secretly given the police the power to conduct searches, demand identification and detain members of the public within 5 metres outside of the security fence created for last weekend’s G20 summit. However, as the Globe and Mail reports, Toronto Police Chief Bill Blair has recently admitted that there was never a 5 metre rule that had the public fearing arrest if they came to close to the G20 security perimeter. Both the police and the province confirmed that the regulation through the Public Works Protection Act applied to the area within the fence.
The Ministry of Community Safety has responded that cabinet updated the law that governed entry to courthouses to include the specific area contained within the G20 fences. A spokesperson for Ministry has stated that the updated law was not about increasing police powers. When asked if there was a 5 metre rule given the Ministry clarification, Chief Blair said “No, but I was trying to keep the criminals out”.
As noted in the Globe and Mail article, Premier Dalton McGuinty has yet to explain why cabinet passed the regulation in secret.
In general, the police have maintained that their actions were necessary to prevent another eruption of violence. Opposition critics, civil libertarians, and many from the general public are outraged that the Liberal Cabinet not only gave the police extra powers to question, search and detain people, but that they did so in secrecy and kept it a secret. The Canadian Civil Liberties Association (CCLA) says that the secret law was a factor when police decided to make massive arrests after cars were set on fire and windows were smashed on Saturday.
Police announced Tuesday morning that they are conducting an internal review of police actions during the summit, but groups – including the Canadian Civil Liberties Association and Amnesty International – are calling for an independent inquiry. A report from the CCLA entitled “A Breach of the Peace” asserts police conduct in relation to summit security was at times “disproportionate, arbitrary and excessive,”. General Counsel Nathalie DesRosiers added that while there are understandable challenges to policing a large-scale international summit, the violation of individual rights during summit policing “exceeded the threshold of a few isolated incidents”.
The Integrated Security Unit has reported that over 900 people were arrested – which the CCLA has said to be the largest mass arrest in Canadian history. ISU has reported that approximately eight officers and six civilians suffered minor injuries.
While the 2010 G20 Summit “Recovery and New Beginnings” primarily addressed the world economy, issues of policing, security and transparency in state actions were rather brought to the world stage. At the expense of constitutional rights, this past weekend was a failure in security measures.
Join the Discussion:
1. What are your thoughts on the events that occurred in Toronto during the summit?
2. In 2010 how effective is protesting?
3. Should anyone be held accountable for what occurred during the G20 summit?
4. Mayor Miller has been quoted as saying the police had an “extraordinarily difficult” task during the summit; was this simply poor planning on the part of the Ontario government or the police?
5. What are your views on the government responsibility to announce changes to the law?
6. Do you think the public was allowed to think (throughout the weekend) that increased police powers existed when they didn’t?
7. Do you think the government is ducking its responsibility for the events that occurred during the summit? (e.g. for giving police powers they never had)
8. CCLA is calling for an apology for government for the process used to adopt the designation pursuant in the Public Works Protection Act. Is an apology sufficient? What would be an appropriate response?
9. There are calls for a review of the security measures. Is an inquiry into the police actions necessary? What will it resolve?
Posted by Andrea Anderson (Windsor Law, 2009)