I used to joke that after living in China and Japan for a couple of years, returning to my home city of Toronto was a non event. It was literally a non event because nothing really changes in Toronto. Sleepy and a tad boring, Toronto seemed to always be the same stable environment. I have come to change my viewpoint now because of the startling and sudden infringement of human rights and the rule of law that has occurred due to the G20 summits that are now being held in Toronto. With law enforcement ballooning to 14,000, imported from all police departments throughout Canada, police decked out in full riot gear, secretly enacted laws of search and arrest (Ontario’s Public Works Protection Act, specifics for the G20), without public debate nor following the proper procedures of the courts, Toronto has degraded from a sleepy democracy to a communist country or a police state. Startling is how fast my city degraded to a police state, catching all of us by surprise. I expect this while living in China but I did not realize that democracy can be so easily overturned by so few.
Toronto Police in riot gear, ready to intimidate and more at the Toronto G20
Toronto Police grab a women by the throat, College and Yonge, Toronto G20
Anyone should be able to walk around downtown Toronto and feel safe. Our city is actually safe and feels safe. Add police in riot gear on every downtown street corner, as is the case in Toronto today, and you feel the intimidation. The police have the power to beat you to a pulp for disagreeing with what they say, and be damned with the law. Of course Canadians are not used to a Toronto in a siege mentality, where the police rule, and rightly so.
The last time I was in such a situation was in Beijing, China, during and after the Tiananmen Square incident. Army personnel were on every street corner, guns in hand. Of course there is no law to protect Chinese citizens, so army and police can ask anyone for ID, search , beat up and arrest whomever they choose. It was unnerving and caused me a great deal of personal stress. If you’ve never experienced this environment I assure you that it is creepy. You live in a state of terror. I never would have thought that a change into a police state could so easily happen to Toronto, but I am proved wrong.
Toronto riot police with shields, meant to intimidate, Toronto G20
Ontario politicians had secretly passed a law that allows police to ask for ID and information about a person, to search whomever within 5 metres of the restricted area of the G20 summit, and to arrest anyone who does not comply. There was no public consultation. Even though activist lawyers were in daily contact with police, the police did not disclose this new law. The Toronto police also did not disclose this to the city of Toronto politicians. It all unfolded yesterday when the act was put into play by the arrest of a protester. This surprised the City of Toronto politicians, the public and protesters. The reason the law was kept secret is because it would most certainly be challenged because it is unconstitutional. The enacted law is illegal.
Toronto Police intimidate G20 protesters
Further to the fact that the law was passed secretly without public debate, and that it will be ruled unconstitutional, is the fact that the police abuse the law by asking for ID, searching and arresting people far from the “within 5 metres of the G20 summit site” at Allan Gardens. The law was also used against protesters 3 kilometers away from the G20 site. Even the letter of the law is not adhered to by police. When later challenged in court I am sure that no police officer will face disciplinary action for breaking the law. This is true in China and will be proved to be true here in Toronto.
Toronto riot police look on as fire department put out a burning police car
Protesters are legally allowed in Canada. It is not only legal but welcome. We here in Canada pride ourselves in our ability to see all viewpoints of an issue, and if you strongly feel the need to shout out, then do so. You may parade through the streets and shout as loud as you want, carry banners and placards stating your issue. Here in Canada we may not agree with your opinion but will gladly allow you to voice it. By allowing police the ability to ask for ID, to search and arrest protesters is a direct infringement on our ability to speak our mind. It is un-Canadian and unconstitutional.
Toronto riot police intimidate as a protester taunts them
Ironic is the fact that Canada invites more than 20 heads of state to our lovely city, only to change our city into a police state, intimidate Torontonians, to take away our right to speak freely and to flout the laws of the land. Is this the message Canada wants to send to the world? Leaders of the world, welcome to Canada. For you we will turn our country into a police state. How can Canada criticize other countries for their human rights records when for a small summit our government also does the same?
Toronto riot police push protesters back
As you visit our city this weekend note that Toronto is a vastly different place, both physically and politically. Torontonians are not used to intimidation by police in vast numbers, sporting riot gear, beating their shields with batons, live weapons and devices that cause pain in your ears, possibly causing permanent hearing damage. We do not appreciate police snipers on rooftops, with their high powered scopes ready to kill. We do not appreciate armed police on horseback, ready to stomp protesters to death. Photos of downtown Toronto show the absence of people, specifically Torontonians.
Toronto riot police face peaceful protesters
Frankly I am ashamed that the Canadian government could turn Toronto into a police state so easily and quickly. We should cherish democracy and our ability to freely speak out. These ideals have been trounced at the G20.
I’ve tracked down the actual Public Works Protection Act as well as the specifics that cover the G20, and for the life of me cannot see how the police can lawfully use this to search and arrest people from merely walking around the security perimeter.
Powers of guard or peace officer
3.A guard or peace officer,
(a) may require any person entering or attempting to enter any public work or any approach thereto to furnish his or her name and address, to identify himself or herself and to state the purpose for which he or she desires to enter the public work, in writing or otherwise;
(b) may search, without warrant, any person entering or attempting to enter a public work or a vehicle in the charge or under the control of any such person or which has recently been or is suspected of having been in the charge or under the control of any such person or in which any such person is a passenger; and
(c) may refuse permission to any person to enter a public work and use such force as is necessary to prevent any such person from so entering. R.S.O. 1990, c. P.55, s. 3.
Toronto riot police on horseback
The law applies to “any person entering or attempting to enter any public work or any approach thereto”. To me that sounds like an entrance way. If you are not near this entrance, for example walking by the perimeter fence, then how can you be searched and arrested? Further the law is very specific as to the affected locations. How is it that the police can use this law at Queen’s Park or Allan Gardens. Both these parks are a couple of kilometers away from the stated protected locations.
The law’s first victim, Dave Vasey was quoted:
Vasey said he was exploring the G20 security perimeter with a friend when they were stopped by police and asked for identification.
There was no mention of Vasey trying to enter the secure area nor being anywhere near an entrance. I do not see how the police can use this act to arrest someone for walking beside the perimeter. All I see is abuse of the law by police, unlawful and unsubstantiated search and arrest by police.
There are some great quotes coming out of recent articles that reaffirms my belief in the rule of law here in Canada. It further highlights the contradictions with mass arrests by Toronto Police this weekend.
“It doesn’t cast our country in a very good light, that we would go to such drastic measures to suppress basic civil liberties, like the right to protest,” said Paul Burstein, president of the Criminal Lawyers’ Association.
“It isn’t just the invasiveness of the power that is so troubling, but that it was done in secret so that by the time we can do something about, it will have run its course,” he said.
“We are trying to present this image of peacekeepers and all that . . . but here we are, we turn ourselves into a police state to host the world. It’s embarrassing.”
“Usually major powers and restrictions on our rights are not brought into law through a regulation,” said Diab [professor Robert Diab, of Capilano University in British Columbia]. “They are usually debated in a legislature and debated on in an open and transparent fashion,” he said.
…In addition, this is not consistent with the rule of law in Canada. We don’t make laws secretly and we don’t arrest and detain people for laws that were made secretly. These are police state tactics.
No arrests made under G20 rule change, Ontario says
First ‘secret law’ arrestee plans Charter challenge: The titles of these two news articles are contradictory. One person was arrested using the law.
Addendum May 14 2012: Byron Sonne not guilty on G20 explosives charges: Why did the police put this guy through nearly 2 years of living hell, and 330 days of pretrial custody. It does seem that he was presumed guilty and locked up before his time in court. Not one single charge from the crown stuck. I wish Byron good luck in carrying on his life. He has been punished by the police more than enough.
Addendum June 15 2016: Senior police officer guilty of G20 misconduct loses 30 paid days