Nathalie Des Rosiers, general counsel for the Canadian Civil Liberties Association, and James Clancy, the National Union of Public and General Employees's national president, spoke to rabble.ca about the release of a report by the CCLA and the NUPGE based on public hearings on the G20 mass arrests. The hearings were held in Toronto and Montreal last November.
Q: Different First Nations communities emphasize the power of narrative-based information and storytelling as gathering tools -- both in regards to evidence gathering and reflection. How do you feel your method of creating this kind of space benefited the inquiry and the debate regarding the impact of the G20?
James Clancy: It provided an opportunity to tell the human story behind the G20 events. Without a human story there's no larger picture to make information meaningful. Without a human story the public just hears numbers.
We knew that more than a 1,000 people were arrested -- the largest mass-arrest in Canadian peace time history. But what did that mean exactly? What did it mean for the individuals arrested? And what did it mean for all Canadians -- our values and our rights? That's what we wanted to learn and share with others. The personal stories add significant weight to the numbers being tossed around in the public debate and help provide the larger picture of what occurred.
Also, there seemed to be some disconnect between what was happening in Toronto and the rest of the country. People in the rest of the country saw news coverage but didn't necessarily feel strongly connected to the G20 events. We hope the personal stories told at our hearings help connect people to the events in Toronto in a more profound way than the mainstream media coverage could.
We know people connect with each other through stories. And if you attended our hearings (or read the report) you'll know how difficult emotionally it was to hear these stories. Again, the official numbers in say a lot of people were mistreated and abused. But who are these people? It turns out they are a sister, a grandfather, a mother, a wife and a husband, a student, a union activist, an innocent bystander, a journalist -- they are real people, our fellow citizens, who had their fundamental rights and dignity violated. Their stories, we hope, will have a profound impact on anyone who hears or reads them. We hope they cause Canadians to reflect on how the values and rights we cherish -- and too often take for granted -- can be easily threatened and violated. More importantly, we hope they motivate people to take action to ensure this kind of thing never happens again."
The people we heard from, based on their unique experiences, actually had answers and solutions for what went wrong. They're actually experts in what went wrong since they experienced it in a direct and personal way. They just needed someone to listen -- and the police and governments weren't willing to listen. We hope our public inquiry provided them an opportunity to express their ideas and solutions on how fix the problems.
Nathalie Des Rosiers: People need to tell their story, particularly when something traumatic has happened and certainly the G20 was traumatizing for many. In my view, it is important that there be a public inquiry for the public airing of the stories and the different people who were variously affected.
Q: What is the benefit or negative consequences of a people-led, independent inquiry?
Nathalie Des Rosiers: The benefit is that the people receive an inquiry that is certainly more immediate and responsive to the situation being investigated and that has a certain value to it. This would allow civil society and the appropriate authorities to react faster to any abuses and institute changes.
The negative aspect, as we're seeing now, is the inability to compel anyone to testify. With the lack of subpoena power, we can invite certain people to testify but we cannot compel anyone to come nor can be compel the review of certain documents related to the G20 decision making process. This is needed because we want to dig as deep as we can as for the benefit of an inquiry.
Q: One characteristic I noted while documenting the testimony of those injured and arbitrarily arrested last summer was the honesty of how they approached the inquiry. How do you feel this contrast against the current frustration of civilian oversight groups for the police and the SIU who feel the Toronto Police Service and G20 Integrated Security Unit have been less than forth coming regarding any G20 inquiries?
James Clancy: The format -- people sharing their experiences -- helped create an authentic dialogue between people. It allowed people to be totally open and honest about what went wrong and their desire to find the truth and fix things.
It's difficult to characterize the response to date from police and security forces in the same way. In my view there's been a total lack of transparency and accountability in explaining the excessive overreaction by police and security forces. It's in their interest to stonewall and keep information hidden. But each day this goes on the public's faith in our police and security forces diminishes. A full public inquiry with the power to subpoena witnesses and documents under oath is needed to restore the public's trust and confidence in public security services.
Nathalie Des Rosiers: A public inquiry would allow for cross-examination and for a power to compel attendance. This is essential if we want to get to the bottom of this.
Q: In the report and during the testimony there were a few different people who commented on the "uncivility" -- as you have termed it in your report -- of the police. Do you feel police conduct during the G20 has hurt their reputation and would a transparent inquiry help remedy this?
Nathalie Des Rosiers: Certainly, the actions of the police during the G20 protests hurt their public reputation and the actions of the police were captured and broadcast to an audience well outside of Toronto, so the impact is much larger than just the reputation for one city.
There is a basic rule of behaviour for any police force in regards to their conduct with civilians because they represent the authority. In is in fact because they represent the authority that their conduct towards the public must be polite and decent. We expect a certain amount of professionalism from the police because they are supposed to be professionals.
The inquiry would allow for the transparency necessary for the public to see that the police are willing to investigate and hold those responsible for their actions and conduct before and during the G20 protests. Any changes that come about because of a review of police behaviour should also be made public so the public can see that changes are being made.
Q: How do you -- or your organization -- feel about how the CCLA/NUPGE inquiry became known as/referred to as "the People's Inquiry"? Do you feel that reflects the lack of a true people's inquiry into the G20 Summit?
James Clancy: I'm proud of that and I think it's a fair description of what our hearings were about.
It's been the only public venue to date where Canadians impacted by the G20 mass arrest had an opportunity to tell their side of the story. The hearings and report we released today is one of the few opportunities where Canadians have been able to find out the real extent of the excessive police brutality and the flagrant disregard for human rights and civil liberties that occurred.
Nathalie Des Rosiers: It was a civil society initiative and as such has an importance. None of the other inquiries have, up to now, open their doors to the process. We are hoping that they will do it soon.
Q: There are I believe seven or eight inquiries being held now, and only one is an independent inquiry, does this reveal a pattern to government behaviour regarding government accountability?
Nathalie Des Rosiers: The issue is not so much one of independence, it is about the ability for any inquiry to dig deeper into the issues regarding policing. The issue is about the amount of limits on the scope and mandate of any inquiry.
Regarding the Toronto Police Commissioner's inquiry, the scope only relates to the conduct of their own officers but since this was a provincial-federal affair, it does not encompass the role of the RCMP or other forces. It can only focus beyond its mandate to review the conduct of the Toronto Police Service alone.
Q: "NUPGE and the CCLA believe the majority of the arrests that occurred during the G20 were excessive and unwarranted." (p. 43 of the report.) Regarding the amount of testimony gathered during the two days of the inquiry, are you surprised that there was only been one arrest (two charges) laid against one police officer --Toronto Police Constable Babek Andalib-Goortani?
James Clancy: I'm really not surprised. I am, however, extremely disappointed that the stonewalling and lack of transparency by police and government officials continues eight months after the G20 and is still preventing justice from being served.
There's ample evidence that many police officers used excessive and unreasonable force and conducted themselves in an unlawful manner. There's absolutely no valid reason why those officers have not been formally charged.
Nathalie Des Rosiers: Massive and illegal arrests may not lead to criminal charges against individual police officers. It could be that orders were given to kettle and detain and massively arrest. We just do not know at this stage.
Q: With this one arrest (and perhaps a few more), how do you feel about the police's approach to singling out a few bad apples as opposed to looking at systemic reasons why there were so many alleged abuses?
Nathalie Des Rosiers: It is obvious from the sheer amount of testimony gathered at the inquiry's hearings in Toronto and Montreal that this issue of police misconduct goes beyond the work of one of two (rogue) officers.
There were several different police agencies on board during the weekend and they were all receiving orders I assume from one central body. Only a public inquiry with the power to dig deeper into these kinds of relationships will reveal the truth regarding who were giving the orders and what those orders were regarding the police's behaviour towards the public, and why we saw a shift in police behaviour from the Saturday (June 26, 2010) to the Sunday (June 27, 2010) in regards to such things as aggressiveness.
Q: On page 59, the report mentions the police's treatment of the media (mainstream media and alternative media) who were "just ‘doing their job reporting" during the G20 Summit. At the people's inquiry, testimony was also given regarding the destruction or confiscation of media cards (digital cameras, cell phone logs, etc). Also, 91 Toronto police officers were reprimanded for not wearing their mandatory police ID (p. 57). Is this one of the systemic patterns you feel revealed itself in the analysis of police conduct and accountability?
James Clancy: Absolutely. I don't think you can simply attribute this to inappropriate conduct of individual police officers. Someone with authority must have directed police to engage in activities that ignore proper conduct and even the rule of law. Whoever that person or persons are, they must be held accountable. That's not going to happen unless we have an independent public inquiry that has a broad mandate with full legal powers to find out who is in fact is responsible.
Nathalie Des Rosiers: One issue is certainly why police officers thought that they ought to remove their badges, why they did in such large numbers and what training they received. These are issues that need to be investigated fully.
Q: The reprimand for those officers was only the loss of one day's pay, should there have been a stronger response?
Nathalie Des Rosiers: I am not so much concerned about the severity of the reprimand but what are the longer term consequences for officers in the field. What I think needs to be revealed is how come there were so many officers without name tags, was it each individual's independent decision to not wear theirs or was there some sort of a larger order or directive given to the police. Was this order given only to the Toronto police or to other police jurisdictions? What will be the consequences if their officers were caught without name tags?
Q: Regarding next steps, do you feel it would be worthwhile investigating the role of the federal government in all of the policing of the G20 Summit? If you feel this is important, why the lack of attention regarding the role of Prime Minister Harper, the PMO's office and the federal government?
James Clancy: It's critical that the federal government establish an independent public inquiry into the G20 events. Canadians deserve answers.
Unfortunately, it appears the prime minister is determined to sweep the whole thing under the rug. The G20 cost Canadians dearly, not only in the billions of dollars spent in taxpayers' money, but also in terms of damage to our reputation on the world stage. For Prime Minister Harper to deny Canadians a public inquiry is a clear indication that his government has a lot to hide about the role they played in this very dark moment in Canadian history.
Nathalie Des Rosiers: We think that a public inquiry should investigate the role of the RCMP in developing the strategy of policing deployed at the G20, we do not know about the relationship between the policing tone and abuses and any interference, counsel, complaints by political figures.
Q: Would you like the inquiry you're calling for to investigate the role of the PMO's office and do you feel it would be useful?
Nathalie Des Rosiers: I think it would be useful for the public -- and there is clearly a desire for this -- to know what role the PMO's office played before and during the G20. Certainly, the PMO's office would have been kept aware of the actions of the police and the demonstrators on the street during that weekend, but we have yet to know exactly what the relationship between all these different agencies were; you clearly have some sort of contact or communication between the RCMP and the local police, but what else, who else was involved, this is what we would like to know.
Q: "This is not to say that the right to protest is absolute. Indeed, the rights of protesters must be reconciled with the interests of members of the general public, foreign dignitaries, police officers and others" (p.17). Can you flesh out this statement in more practical terms regarding the expectations of organizers? At what point does organizing a demonstration put an activist or group at risk for "conspiracy" charge?
James Clancy: The starting point for me is that all Canadians have the constitutional right to engage in peaceful and lawful demonstration. No activist who exercises this right should ever be at risk of a conspiracy charge.
Unfortunately, this constitutional right wasn't respected or protected by police and security forces during the G20. We need to ensure this never happens again so that all Canadians are free to exercise their constitutional rights.
Nathalie Des Rosiers: Organizing a protest should not put someone at risk of a conspiracy charge unless there is a conspiracy to engage in a criminal activity.
Regarding the conspiracy charges, we will have to wait for the courts to rule, but it should be noted that more than half of the charges laid during the G20 were dropped or people were released without any charges as all.
Q: Our Charter of Rights and Freedoms allows for certain protections and rights regardless of sex, gender, race, etc. "There were also numerous reports of police incivility, including the use of abusive language and racist, sexist, anti-Francophone and homophobic slurs by police" (p. 12). How can groups like the CCLA with its allies like NUPGE use the Charter to prevent such cases of "police incivility" in the future?
James Clancy: Section 15 of the Charter guarantees equal protection of the law without discrimination based on race, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, sex, age or mental or physical disability. This represents basic values shared and cherished by Canadians.
NUPGE, as I'm sure CCLA, has a strong and proud tradition of supporting Section 15 challenges. We'll continue working with our allies to ensure all police and public security agencies not only respect, but also protect the core values expressed by our Section 15 of our Charter.
Nathalie Des Rosiers: At this stage, the Charter will not help much with police incivility unless it demonstrates a discriminatory pattern which would bring the equality section into play.
Q: At what level would the change need to be at to prevent such future abuses?
Nathalie Des Rosiers: The Charter applies to all actions of the state and the police. There are comprehensive rules found within Chapter 8 regarding the arrest, search (and seizure) of activists. What we will need to see is if these rights were violated in any way during the G20 -- were there any specific orders given during the G20 -- we don't have the answers to any of these questions yet.
Some of these (answers) will be revealed by the courts (during the trials) but we certainly need to see the bigger picture regarding the arrests and searches made. For example, there were many different testimonies given during our inquiry where people complained they had their rights violated in regards to illegal searches. The complaints are too numerous in nature to point to the actions of isolated officers.
Nathalie Des Rosiers is the general counsel for the Canadian Civil Liberties Association and d James Clancy is the National Union of Public and General Employees's national president. Listen to testimony from witnesses at the inquiry by clicking here. Krystalline Kraus is a regular contributor to rabble.ca, writing the Activist Communiqué blog and covered the G20 weekend for rabble.ca.