Monday, July 12, 2010

Marching toward accountability?

On Saturday, July 10th 2010, I joined over a thousand people outside the Ontario Legislature to demand there be an independent public inquiry into security at the G20, and to support our right to civil liberties in Canada. I attended the rally at Queen’s Park because, like many, I am still outraged by what transpired during the summit, and I am still calling for accountability.

As I listened to speakers from the Canadian Civil Liberties Association, Toronto’s Community Mobilization Network, and the Canadian Labour Congress, I was reminded of serious rights infringements that occurred only weeks ago. I am still disturbed by the fact that 1,000 people were arrested, many who were simply exercising their democratic right to protest, or, worse still, innocent by-standers. Perhaps even more disconcerting, is that several individuals are still being detained on G20 related charges and have not yet had bail-hearings.

As we marched through the streets of Toronto, en route to the site of the G20 conference, I couldn’t help but be struck by the energy and determination of those around me. It has been two weeks since the climax of G20 confrontations, and it is obvious that people’s frustrations have not been quelled. Despite Bill Blair’s promise to internally review 'all aspects’ of policing practices and the Toronto Police Services Board’s Inquiry many remain unsatisfied.

In an apparent attempt to satiate public demand, Ontario’s Ombudsman has added his name to the growing list of G20 inquirers. On Friday, July 9th, Andre Marin announced he will investigate the enactment of the controversial ‘five-metre-rule’, which supposedly gave police the power to arrest any individual within five metres of the security fence who refused to be searched or provide identification. Marin’s office has received twenty-two G20 related complaints, which “so far raise serious concerns about [the] regulation and the way it was communicated…”. According to the Ombudsman, “there is a very strong public interest in finding out exactly what happened and how that affected the rest of the events of the G20 weekend.”

The Ontario Ombudsman’s mandate is “to ensure government accountability through effective oversight of the administration of government services.” Impartially is one of the cornerstones of the Ombudsman’s office, which should satisfy those calling for objectivity. But what will really come from the Ombudsman’s investigation?

It is important to remember, the Ombudsman only has investigatory powers. Regardless of what Marin uncovers, his recommendations are not binding and he cannot enforce change. Marin’s power lies in public ‘naming and shaming’; ideally, he will be able to clearly outline grievances, identify perpetrators, and bring misdeeds to light in the public arena. But, is this enough?

Many have stated public condemnation is not enough; instead, they want resignations and dismissals.

Of course, discharging select individuals does not guarantee justice is served. There will always be a danger that some will become scapegoats, and the system, policies, and procedures will remain unaltered.

Only time will tell if any of the proposed investigatory mechanisms prove to be effective. Hopefully, we are headed in the right direction. In the meantime, it seems Canadians will continue marching.

Posted by Ashley Henbrey (Windsor Law II)

1 comment:

  1. Although large international summits such as the G20 require heightened levels of security, it goes without saying that security must be attained in a constitutional matter. In the aftermath of the summit, it is clear that this was not always the case among the 1,000 arrests made by police in riot gear using tasers and tear gas guns, which unnecessarily created an oppressive atmosphere.
    Based on the alleged abuse of power by the police over the G20 weekend, the Ombudsman is now conducting an investigation into the controversial “secret” G20 law. More specifically, one issue complainants find problematic is how the “five-metre rule,” as it was reported by Chief Blair, contravened their constitutional rights to demonstrate. Although recommendations from the Ombudsman are not binding on the government in any way, the Ombudsman’s power of moral suasion could potentially persuade the government to correct their security measures in the future, and much of this power is dependent on public awareness. If the Ombudsman’s findings must be accurate with no margin of error, and if the recommendations are practical, it would be difficult for the government to not accept any recommendations, especially amidst a potential public outcry following the release of the findings.
    Despite the Ombudsman’s report (to be released within 90 days), the Canadian Civil Liberties Association’s inquiry, and the Toronto Police Services Board’s civilian review of police governance, it’s interesting to note that a poll suggests most Canadians support G20 policing. The survey for the Canadian Press found that two-thirds of people believed police response was appropriate, whereas one in five found the police response inappropriate out of the 1,000 Canadians surveyed. If the reality is that most Canadians do not find the police tactics to be disturbing or contrary to Constitutional rights to freedom of expression and association, the recommendations from the Ombudsman’s office to ensure government accountability may not be effective. Yet, that does not appear to be the case considering that there is a real public interest in police actions. Apart from the separate inquiries and investigations mentioned, the Toronto Community Mobilization Network is calling for photos, videos and stories of alleged police brutality to produce a report that will lead to firings and charges for persons responsible for the laws limiting rights, among other abuses of power. Together, the investigational efforts of independent groups and organizations dispel the apparent consensus of police response as appropriate and may potentially lead to real changes in security measures for such events.