Wednesday, June 30, 2010

What Did a Billion Dollars Buy?

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)


  1. Andrea Andersen raises some excellent observations and insights into the G20 and G8 summit in her post "What Did a Billion Dollars Buy?

    I think to begin with the billion dollars bought a lot of fear. The sight of impenetrable fences erected in Toronto, the unprecedented police and military presence and the broad sweeping powers that were given to police induced fear in many ways. People who might normally express their freedom of association and expression through protest may have been hesitant to exercise these democratic rights. It induced a fear of the protestors themselves by ordinary citizens.

    In a less apparent way, I maintain that the excessive amount of security leads to more anger and frustration by those who did take part in what was mainly a peaceful protest. The more extreme the display of power by the state, the more likely it is to lead to an extreme outcome. In other words, before the protests began, the conclusion was already written.

    In a Globe and Mail article on June 29, 2010 by Jeff Gray, "National civil liberties group demands accountability" some disturbing figures were given at the end of the article. It is astounding to note that in the Quebec October Crisis, where the 'War Measures Act' was invoked throughout the entire province, there were approximately 463 people arrested. In comparison, in the G20 summit in Toronto there were reported to be over 900 arrests in one city in virtually two days. More recent sources have placed this figure to be over 1000. This attests to a growing emphasis by the government toward a dangerous climate of over policing and intimidation.

    It is worth considering the underlying elements. With a Federal election looming and a need for the Conservative Party to gain a foothold in Ontario, and most especially Toronto, Mr. Harper established some key parts of his election platform. One of the points is to set himself up as a law and order candidate. While I agree with law and order, the excessive powers given to the police around this summit is beyond a law and order society and is approaching a police state. Another point is the program regarding aid to mothers and children. Laudable as some of its objectives may seem, it appeals to core Conservative beliefs especially with its anti-abortion element.

    As wasteful as a billion plus security spending may be, it will do Mr. Harper's campaign no harm to have spent that money in Ontario.

  2. I'll address the last question right now as that's where my thoughts are clearest. I'll likely be back with more comments later.

    I believe that an independent inquiry is absolutely necessary, even if you believe that the police action was appropriate. Following the violence and chaos of the weekend and the revelation that we were misled as to the extent of the police's powers during the summit, public confidence has been shaken. A public inquiry must be held and those responsible must be held accountable in order to restore confidence in the system. If the fails and is allowed to fail, then people will justifiably conclude that it doesn't work. And I think that we can all imagine where that leads.

    Furthermore, sweeping it all under the rug or trying to forget what happened only reinforces that what happened is acceptable, and it isn't. We cannot allow such a precedent to be set. Rights must be unconditional or they are not rights at all. If our rights can be suspended because of a G20 summit, then they are only privileges to be granted or denied as the powers that be deem them necessary. If there is no resolution - no firings or sanctions for those responsible, no declaration that this was unconstitutional - then it leaves the door open for a repetition of these abuses of powers the next time there is a political event in one of our cities.

  3. There are a few things that have crossed my mind while the weekend came to a close.

    I remember getting into a debate about what protesting actually accomplishes in today's time. An interesting debate later - I was left with a dominant perspective which was prevalent amongst most I had talked to. Had the protestors tried to write to the leaders and taken up other means (these means were never specified) to have their voices heard rather than protest (which wasn't done near the building the conference was being held in anyway), the "ordinary" public, watching television would not have agreed with Mayor David Miller when he, during an interview with CP24, called many of the protestors "criminal".

    Today, protesting may get your voice heard but it falls flat on ears that are constantly bombarded with the same two or three violent images that were repeatedly broadcasted on various news stations.

    According to the Charter, our fundamental freedoms include right to free speech and peaceful assembly, but these have always been up for debate - what does "free speech" really entail, etc. And that is the argument that most people had against protesting.

    It's unfortunate that even before the protesting started, I saw comments like "Protestors need to get a job", etc. all over Facebook.

    Protesting in 2010 has become a gamble in some sense - while you garner attention for the voice you want to carry over, it may just turn into negative publicity for the cause.

    Perhaps this is the best illustration of Justice McLachlin's concern about the "chilling effect" which she talked about in R. v. Keegstra - that if you try to put a hold on free speech, it may just give the speech a platform to get noticed.

    I'm just not sure if getting noticed is all it's about though. There was a message that was trying to be sent across through protesting but the message many got OF the protestors was that they had "nothing to do" and were "confrontation junkies". Protesting itself looked like it was being criminalized this whole week...

    That's what protesting in 2010 looks like to me - a mechanism given to the common public to raise concerns, which the government will try to control and limit, often causing havoc and anger, leading to misunderstood and skewed images of the fundamental freedom in the common public's mind.

  4. I too pondered the question about protests and what they accomplish. After taking part in protests in the past, I was often left with the question of what was accomplished. Considering the aftermath of this protest, one now has to consider whether taking part peacefully in a protest is worth the danger of false imprisonment.

    At least two important questions arise from the issue around protesting. One has to do with educating those critical of protest as to what the real issues of the G20 and G8 are. The other is how to counter some of the violent themes that arose out of the police crackdown on demonstrators.

    Education is critical but the method is elusive. Mass writing campaigns and petitions have been attempted in other serious situations. Amnesty International is one group that is presently petitioning and calling for an inquiry into police actions in the violent arrests that occurred the weekend of the G20 summit. Education is and always has been an uphill battle. Yet without an attempt to involve the public and encourage people to understand the issues, we are acquiescing to the power that the G20 and G8 already have. Whenever we struggle against the larger and unified forces of these summits and their agendas, we have to understand and expect adversity in the form of insulting remarks, and some politicians denouncing us. This should not stop us.

    Out of this blog, we can generate an educated and well informed response to the reactionary comments that protest often receives. We can denounce the arrests made by police of people who had nothing to do with the burning of police cars and the breaking of windows; people who were peaceful but wanted to show their outrage at the policies of the G20.

    It is deplorable that innocent civilians and alternative journalists covering the G20 protests were criminalized while attempting to exercise the rights that are inherent in a free society. There have been reports of the inhumane conditions in the cells where people were kept for hours with reportedly little to eat or drink. One interview showed a gay man who was told that he and his partner should be put in separate cells because they could be in danger. This man and his partner did not feel threatened by anyone in the cells, but did feel threatened by the police. According to this interview, gay and lesbian people were segregated into even smaller cells. It seems that the police were the ones that were homophobic and not the protestors.

    These are but a few of the dreadful conditions that innocent civilians and people from alternative media faced in detention by police without cause. This is what none of us should forget.

    In the end, protest by those with the courage of their convictions should be applauded by those of us who attempt to understand the policies of the G20 and G8. I applaud those who took to the streets. It is time that people began to separate the few protestors who were violent from the majority who were not. We can speak out about the need for freedom to protest the inherently violent theme of the G20 and G8 without fear of having to risk arrest and detention in inhumane degrading conditions.

  5. Like most Canadians, and some commentators on this blog, I believe the G20 Summit was a failure on many levels. We should certainly be pressing the government to explain its decision to hold the summit in Toronto, the sizeable cost, and minimal compensation available to those affected by the disruption and destruction. However, I also believe that there should be a focused, and perhaps distinct, investigation into the methods of detention employed by police, and the conduct of high-ranking police officials. Given the serious nature of the reported rights infringements, there is need for all Canadians to push for an independent public inquiry into police conduct during the G20.

    Dimitri Soudas, spokesman for Prime Minister Harper, has stated that police at the summit were “ultimately doing their job”. Admittedly, conducting security at major world conference is ‘difficult’; however, in no way does the difficulty of this task justify compromising the civil liberties of Canadian citizens. Part of hosting an international conference, which will foreseeably draw mass protests, is creating security tactics that respect individual rights and deescalate tensions. It is clear, however, that rights-centered methods were not a serious priority, particularly in relation to detention.

    If civil liberties had been properly considered, organizers would have ensured: firstly that sufficient water, food, and restrooms were available to those detained; secondly, detainees had the ability to access legal representation; thirdly, proper procedures were followed in relation to searches and seizures; and finally, that individuals were detained based upon ‘reasonable grounds’, instead of corralling mass numbers people, including innocent by-standers.

    Toronto’s Chief of Police, Bill Blair, maintains that if individuals feel mistreated, they have the right to file a complaint via the Complaints Process. Indeed, filing complaints against specific officers can be an effective means of redress. However, the filing of individual complaints does not preclude a simultaneous independent public inquiry. Individual complaints and an independent inquiry cannot be conflated; each remedy has different aims and distinct methods.

    The failings of the G20 security efforts go beyond the actions of a few individual officers. It is clear wrongdoing also occurred in the upper echelons. Bill Blair’s dissemination of misleading information relating to the “secret 5 meter regulation”, enacted under Ontario’s Public Works Protection Act, is the most obvious example of high-level misconduct.

    Furthermore, Blair’s purposed internal examination is a similarly dissatisfying alternative to a public inquiry. It is necessary for a review of police conduct to be as objective as possible. With an internal task force, an unbiased investigation cannot be guaranteed.

    A public inquiry would ensure at least some repercussions for misdeeds. At the very least Blair could be subject to a public shaming, which might impact his conduct in the future.

    The police occupy a unique and powerful role in society. It is imperative that they are subject to checks and balances, and held accountable for misuses of their powers.

    Public inquiries are potent tools. The Braidwood Inquiry, which investigated the death of Robert Dziekanski, illustrates that public inquiries can result in substantial reform to police procedure, and usher in greater accountability.

    A Day of Action in support of a public inquiry into police conduct during the G20 is scheduled for Saturday July 10th. Please see the following link for further details:

  6. There are many Torontonians that are ready to turn the page, put the events behind them, and move on from the G20 summit. In the same vein, there are people who have heavily criticized the plight of the protesters and argue that overall, breaking the windows at a Starbucks, vandalizing local businesses, yelling at riot cops, and throwing objects did not help their cause. The general position is that during the G20 weekend not all of those who came to protest do so legitimately.

    Reading the comments I started to question what the bigger picture is.

    Leading up to the summit, there was a growing polarization of opinion. It is true that hindsight is always 20-20; protesters, police and bystanders all have different accounts of the events of Toronto summit. The truth is that the price tag on the summit was excessive. In short, the money being spent would architect this disaster.

    The reality is that the aftermath of the G20 summit will last for sometime. The city has yet to completely shed the police-state feeling that overpowered it during the G20 summit. The newspapers continued to be filled with individual stories of what happened that weekend. The complaints from the summit are mounting, which include the four journalists, now known as the “Free Press 4”, represented by Toronto lawyer Julian Falconer, who have filed a complaint with the Office of Independent Police Review, claiming physical assault and sexual threats from the G20 officers. Others, possibly intimidated and not trusting of the complaints process, have turned to the Canadian Civil Liberties Association for help. There have been reports that G20 protesters are launching a complaint with the United Nations.

    As for those individuals and organizations that are unwilling to turn the page, they are seeking accountability. My beef is with the government and the system. The disbelief I feel lies with my perception of Canada and more specifically of the City of Toronto: one of tolerance, innovation, diversity, and progression. In general, when dissent is treated the way it was during the Toronto summit it is a slap in the face of the principles of democracy.

    Chief Blair has a lot to answer for, but arguably it was McGuinty’s Liberal government that set this disaster in motion. The government failed to announce this new law. Further, while the chaos ensued, the liberal government made no effort over the G20 weekend to set the record straight. The McGuinty government has failed to take responsibility for giving the police powers that they were never supposed to have.

    The silence of the Premier has been both deafening and very telling, almost a week after the revelation of the non-existent 5-metre rule, McGuinty admitted that he could have done better but offered no apology for the G20 confusion. McGuinty, the potential subject of a public inquiry, has said there is no need for a review into the events of the G20 summit. With the Premier’s response, I am left with the view that it was acceptable to sacrifice freedoms in pursuit of a false sense of safety and security.

    With that said, the Toronto Police Service Board (TPSB) has just announced that they will be establishing an Independent Civilian Review to “identify and study issues raised by the public and Board members regarding oversight, governance, accountability, transparency and the communications and supervision issues arising from a multi-jurisdictional model of policing in the context of the governance role and policies of the Toronto Police Services Board”.,view/id,124/

    Chief Blair should be held accountable for the strategic and tactical decisions that were made during the G20 weekend. The Liberal government has washed their hands of the allegations of mistreatment. If policing decisions were being dictated by political pressure this too needs to be adequately addressed in the civilian review.