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G20 – Let’s get on the same page

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In short:

Last week Ontario Ombudsman Andre Marin released a report in which he called the treatment of protest “the most massive compromise of civil liberties in Canadian history” which “amounted to martial law in Toronto.”

Toronto Police Chief, Bill Blair’s response was “With the greatest respect to the ombudsman, I’m not aware of the evidence he bases that statement upon”.

We are not on the same page.

If nothing else, Steven Harper’s decision to hold the G20 meeting in downtown Toronto has gotten us talking. We have to keep talking until we get everyone on the same page.

Extended version:

At least we’re talking about it…

As a peaceful protester, what are my rights? Where and when should I be allowed to protest? When can the police have a right to ask me for identification and search me? Can I be arrested if I refuse? Can the police arrest and detain me on weapons charges for carrying a swiss army knife? How about for wearing black? What is the appropriate punishment for police that fail to identify themselves or use too much force?

In a democracy, people must have the right to peaceful protest. After reviewing police tactics during the 97 APEC summit, it was decided that protesters should have the right to be seen and heard by participants of future summits. In 1999, the public hearing on police misconduct concluded that authorities must “ensure that generous opportunity will be afforded for peaceful protesters to see and be seen in their protest activities by guests to the event.”  In 2009, the G20 in Britain brought about similar international statements: “Security arrangements must start from the proposition that freedom of expression, freedom of peaceful association and public demonstration are protected aspects of international gatherings, not actions that should be impeded or eliminated.”

The handling of protesters in Vancouver during the 2010 olympics is a good example of how it can be done right. The first day, thousands marched on BC Place with only one arrest as the group was mostly peaceful. Police chief, Jim Chu, made a point of saying his force would monitor the situation but would not impede freedom of speech. The second day 200 masked protesters using black bloc tactics were met with police in riot gear with tear gas and pepper spray. 7 were arrested. Violent protests came to an end that day, the first day of competition.

Last week Ontario Ombudsman Andre Marin released a report in which he called the treatment of protest “the most massive compromise of civil liberties in Canadian history” which “amounted to martial law in Toronto.” Were these statements overblown? Maybe. Some have referred to Marin’s statements as “wild rhetoric“. If nothing else, we see can see clearly, that not everyone has the same understanding regarding fundamental rights of Canadian citizens. Toronto Police Chief, Bill Blair’s response was “With the greatest respect to the ombudsman, I’m not aware of the evidence he bases that statement upon”. We are not on the same page here.

The Special Investigation Unit (SIU) looked at 6 instances of injury (broken bones). There were 6 such cases including  Adam Nobody’s caught on video where a group of at least 5 officers were seen tackling Nobody for no apparent reason. But because officers were wearing their helmets/visors and, and 91 officers had taken badge numbers off, none of the officers involved were identifiable so no charges could be laid. (These 91 officers were since docked a day’s pay for removing their badge numbers).

Andre Marin is now investigating the SIU to determine whether the SIU has been doing its job in objectively reviewing complaints of police conduct. It wasn’t until readers contacted the Toronto Star and providing more video footage and photographs of incidents that the SIU reopened the investigation and now says they have identified 14 officers involved in the case of Adam Nobody. But what about the other 5 people that ended up with broken bones. And what about the woman in the photo above who says she has a welt on her hip from being hit by a baton? She may not have any broken bones, but isn’t there a chance there was misconduct here as well?

Who will take responsiblity? Dalton McGuinty will take the widely misunderstood “5 meter law” off the books after admitting the provincial government may have acted hastily. But, only 2 people were ever charged under that law. Most of the 1100 were arrested under a breach of peace arrest authority and then released without charge. Some say this authority “lends itself easily to misuse and overuse“. Shouldn’t we look at revising this authority?

How do others deal with cases of police misconduct? At the G20 in 2009 in London, when a photographer had 5 teeth knocked out by an officer, the police department paid the photographer 30K pounds in compensation and took responsibility for their actions as a group by issuing the following statement:

On 1 April 2009 well-respected social issues photographer David Hoffman was recording the G20 protests in the City of London.

The Metropolitan Police Service (MPS) recognise that Mr Hoffman was entitled to report on that day but was caused injury by an MPS officer during the event, preventing him from doing so.

The MPS confirms its recognition that freedom of the press is a cornerstone of democracy and that journalists have a right to report freely. The MPS apologise to Mr Hoffman for the treatment he received and have paid compensation.

In a similar case, Ottawa’s police chief recently offered to resign when the treatment of 2 prisoners came into question.

The aftermath of the G20 has brought to light that everyone is not on the same page on the answers to these issues. If nothing else, Steven Harper’s decision to hold the G20 meeting in downtown Toronto has gotten us talking.

We have to keep talking until we get everyone on the same page.

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Written by Tilak Dutta

December 12, 2010 at 7:09 pm

Posted in G20

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