The following is excerpted from a statement this week to a parliamentary committee by Nathalie Des Rosiers, general counsel of the Canadian Civil Liberties Association, calling for a public inquiry into the events of the G20 weekend in Toronto last June:
Peaceful assembly is as fundamental a right as the right to vote: it supports access by politicians to their electors and permits political life and discussion. It ought not to be violated with impunity.
The security effort for the G20 was massive, it was expensive and it was complex. Its results include the largest mass arrests in Canadian history outside of wartime, thousands of arbitrary detentions and unreasonable searches, numerous instances of vandalism. It ought not to become the model for public order policing. We deserve better.
It cannot be that over 900 completely innocent people were arrested, their hands tied, their phones seized, their shoes removed, denied the opportunity to call anyone, detained for several hours, one of the most frightening experiences and interactions with the state and the police — and their government will say that it does not care. To say that, unfortunately, they were at the wrong place, at the wrong time, is not enough. They are entitled to understand why they were treated this way. They deserve better.
Finally, I want to appeal to you as men and women who believe in politics and the public good. You all give your lives to attempting to solve issues for your fellow citizens. That is why you are here.
People who protest also believe in the power of politics. They could stay home and watch TV, watch the World Cup, play on their computers. But they care enough about their fellow citizens (here and elsewhere) to march, and they were arrested. A handful of vandals ought to have been stopped, not a thousand people randomly arrested or dispersed.
We should support political engagement, not punish it. The day that 20 world political leaders meet and no one shows up to express their opinion, for fear that they could be arrested or mistreated, is the day we will have truly lost our democracy. We are counting on you to ensure that this does not occur by committing to a process that will provide answers and solutions.
The security excesses of the G20 summit in Toronto last summer are still an ongoing concern for the 1,000 peaceful protesters and bystanders who were arrested, handcuffed and held in steel cages. For many other Canadians, though, the summit’s protests and policing tactics became an unfortunate historical footnote not long after the security fences came down.
Last week, the Canadian Civil Liberties Association made a compelling case before a Commons committee that the security and policing concerns raised during the summit are far from over. The CCLA urged that we hold a public inquiry to learn from the many mistakes, lest we repeat them. Among the concerns:
Laws were changed without public input; the public was misinformed about broadened police powers; unconstitutional searches occurred across the city; excessive force was used to disperse peaceful protesters; and, ultimately, more than 1,000 people were arrested, held in an overcrowded detention centre and not allowed to call their family or a lawyer. More than 900 of them had not done anything wrong and were subsequently released without charge.
As CCLA General Counsel Nathalie Des Rosiers told the committee: “Either we will emerge (from the G20 weekend) with stronger democratic institutions . . . and better policing or we will have tolerated mass violations of civil liberties with callous indifference.”
So far, Ottawa and Queen’s Park have taken the latter course. Rather than calling a broad public inquiry, they point to various and sundry mini-reviews already underway. Each will shed light on a certain aspect of the G20 weekend, but none has the necessary mandate to link all the political and police decisions or the power to compel evidence under oath.
Certainly, the first two days of public hearings on the G8/G20 summits do not provide confidence that the Commons public safety committee will be the vehicle to get to the bottom of this affair. Indeed, with every dodge and weave at the committee last week, Public Safety Minister Vic Toews proved yet again why a public inquiry is needed. For example, he assured the MPs that there were “compelling” reasons to locate the G8 and G20 summits in Muskoka and Toronto, respectively, but he was unable to recall those reasons.
Government advisers and a top RCMP official were scarcely more helpful. When questioned about the mass arrests or the conditions in the detention centre, the answer was, invariably, that someone else was responsible for that.
It will take a public inquiry to follow the decision-making trail and find the answers.
Addendum Nov 04, 2010: News today says that during the G20 in Toronto 90 Toronto police officers removed their name tags and now face disciplinary action. This is preposterous. Even a cursory look at any photo of any police would show at first glance that most police officers were unidentifiable. This was an order from their leadership, a strategic decision and a systemic problem. If these police officers are to be punished, their leadership should also be investigated and punished twice as much. Do not blame the rank and file for the failure and transgressions of the leadership. The public is not that gullible.
Addendum Nov 05 2010: Here’s an excellent article on kettling at the G20 Summit in Toronto, Canada. How the police can get away with such brutality of innocent fellow citizens is beyond me. I will remember this when I vote provincially and federally. Such a violation of our rights cannot be tolerated. To those who suffered, my condolences.
Addendum Nov 08 2010: Yet another article about Toronto police brutality, where unidentified police officers beat up two peaceful protesters. They will participate in hearings on the Toronto G20 Summit, held by the CCLU.
Addendum Nov 11 2010: Stories from hearings show G20 still haunts residents
Just how nasty is being documented by the Canadian Civil Liberties Association. It’s holding public meetings this week in Toronto and Montreal to hear from victims of police violence at the G20. Their stories were at once riveting and tedious. Riveting because the pain is so obviously real; tedious because they’re all the same. source
Addendum Nov 25, 2010: Officers not at fault for injuries during G20 protests: SIU Excessive force used and acknowledged, but supposedly officers could not be identified, so all walk free. This is to be expected but is disappointing. Police should not be able to wantonly break people’s bones without consequences.
Addendum Nov 30 2010: How a man named Nobody became the battered face of G20 protests
Addendum Dec 06 2010: NDP, students call for G20 public inquiry: I hope someone is listening, as I too want a full public inquiry. The police have beaten up innocent people and we need this stopped. Those that were beaten and jailed need to find justice in the Canadian judicial system.
Toronto journalist witnessed ‘police brutality’ at Toronto G20: TVO’s Steve Paikin testifies to an Ottawa parliamentary committee that he saw police brutality, when he saw a Guardian (British newspaper) reporter Jesse Rosenfeld get beaten up.
Addendum Dec 18 2010: G20 case studies: 400 official complaints, little satisfaction: LOL Police investigating other police. There is no possible way to show impartiality with the current processes. Even the SIU is loaded with 70% ex police officers, better but still insufficient. There is no impartiality here.
Addendum April 28 2011: Exclusive: Province to scrap secret G20 law
Addendum May 11 2011: Filmmaker suing province, police over G20 arrest: British filmmaker arrested twice for G20 issues, then not charged.
Addendum Aug 01 2012: G20 aftermath: Hamilton residents sue Toronto police for $1.4 million
Addendum June 27 2015: The Toronto G20 radicalized me
Addendum June 27 2015: ‘Stories from the G20’ gathering marks 5th anniversary of event that still resonates
Addendum June 28 2015: Could the Toronto G20 happen again?
Addendum June 28 2015: Police face little accountability, five years after the Toronto G20
Addendum Aug 27 2015: The most disturbing thing we learned from the G20: Keenan After almost 5 years the top cop organizer has been found guilty of illegal mass arrests, but will likely retire and face no consequences for his actions. The disgraceful actions of the police have really shaken my confidence in their ability to protect the public at large. Democracy is so fragile. A break in democracy and the Charter of Rights can easily happen again. Sad, but at least we know where we stand.
Addendum Mar 26 2017: Two cases of police misconduct arising out of Toronto G20 summit set for review