Tuesday, March 8, 2011

CCLA Report on G-20 Public Hearings Released

Last week, the Canadian Civil Liberties Association (CCLA) and the National Union of Public and General Employees (NUPGE) released a joint report regarding police action during the 2010 G-20 Summit held in Toronto. The report was a result of public hearings that the CCLA and NUPGE held in Toronto and Montreal in November 2010, at which over 60 people recounted police misconduct they witnessed or experienced.

The report focuses on several aspects of the G-20 policing, including Regulation 233/10 passed under the Public Works Protection Act (PWPA) on June 2nd, 2010. The regulation, which designated the streets and sidewalks inside the security perimeter a “public work” between June 21st and June 28th, was passed behind closed doors and without input from any stakeholders, except the Toronto Police Service (TPS). The report criticizes the Ontario government for withholding notification of the regulation until after it had been passed and calls for the amendment or repeal of the PWPA.

The report also condemns the excessive use of arbitrary stops and searches of members of the public. Independent legal observers also recalled witnessing police searching people who clearly stated they did not consent to being searched.

Related to the numerous stops and searches, the report is particularly critical of the widespread arrests that occurred, especially those resulting from the raid on University of Toronto Graduate Student's Union building and the cornering of protestors and pedestrians at Queen and Spadina on June 27th. The G-20 Summit resulted in over 1100 arrests, the largest mass arrest in Canadian history. The report calls the majority of the arrests excessive and unwarranted, serious violations of Charter protections. Public hearing participants also described the ridiculous nature of many arrests, including one woman being charged with burglary-related offences for carrying a piece of bamboo. Unsurprisingly, most of the arrested were not charged or had their charges dismissed.

Perhaps the most disturbing parts of the report relate to use of force and incivility towards the public. Observers reported seeing police officers charging into the crowd, grabbing, and dragging away peaceful protestors in an attempt to clear out Queens Park, the designated protest zone. In another incident, police officers arriving in unmarked vans dashed into the group of peaceful protestors gathered across the street from the Eastern Avenue Detention Centre, throwing several into the vans and speeding away. The protestors were then ordered to leave and fired upon by smoke-emitting projectiles. Personal accounts of excessive force include the experience of a man whose prosthetic leg was ripped off by police and was forcibly dragged away after explaining he couldn’t walk without it. The report also found the conditions and treatment of detainees at the detention centre to be deplorable, with overcrowded cells, lack of toilet facilities, and impaired access to legal counsel. Public hearing participants recounted particular incidents of misconduct, including the denial of insulin to a diabetic man until he collapsed and the strip searching of a minor. Particularly distressing, though not surprising, hearing participants recounted hearing racist, sexist, homophobic, and anti-Francophone comments made by police to demonstrators on the streets and in the Eastern Avenue detention centre, including a threat of rape at the detention centre.

At the core of the report is the recommendation that a joint federal-provincial public inquiry be convened to investigate the conduct of police and breaches of fundamental rights that were allowed to happen. Interestingly, the report also calls for an investigation into undercover police informants and limitations on what such persons can do. This raises the question of agents provacateurs and to what extent they contributed to the unruly behavior of some protestors. It is well known that infiltrators often provoke violent behaviour during otherwise peaceful protests, allowing for law enforcement to subsequently crack down, as seen during the August 2007 Security and Prosperity Partnership meeting in Montebello, Quebec. The report also recommends that a legislative framework be developed to deal with future public order policing of this nature. Even with the input of the public into such a framework, it seems unlikely that it would prevent similar misconduct in the future. Such misconduct is not exceptional but occurs daily, just on a smaller scale, and won’t end until the systematic nature of such misconduct is acknowledged and police officers are held accountable under the rule of law for violating “protected” rights rather than being shielded.  

Do you think the federal and provincial governments will ever agree to a public inquiry?

Is a public inquiry needed when other inquiries have taken/are taking place, such as the Independent Civilian Review by the Toronto Police Services Board, the Systemic Review by Ontario’s Office of the Independent Police Review Director, and the review of the Public Works Protection Act by Ontario’s Ombudsman?

Given that public inquiries do not have the power to force government action but can only make findings and recommendations, do you think an inquiry would result in greater accountability?

Aminah Hanif (Law I)

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