During the G20 meetings in Toronto in June 2010, police arrested over 1000 people. In the lead-up to the G20, police carried out extensive infiltration of activist groups, and a number of activists remain in jail today. Victims of the police repression have waited two long years without anything resembling accountability. rabble.ca correspondent krystalline kraus reported live from the streets of Toronto during the G20.
Here, we present the second of her two-part look into the latest report on police actions, examing the assumptions and conclusions of the report authored by Gerry McNeilly and issued last week by the Office of the Independent Police Review Director (OIPRD). You can read part I of this feature here.
McNeilly’s 286-page report was released two years after the G20 Summit protests and contains testimony from police officers and citizens alike. Absent is any inclusion or analysis of the role of the government, providing the sense that the federal government had no hand in the events that transpired June 26-27, 2010 in Toronto.
The OIPRD report, 'Policing the Right to Protest,' found: "Some police officers ignored basic rights citizens have under the Charter and overstepped their authority when they stopped and searched people arbitrarily and without legal justification," and that, "numerous police officers used excessive force when arresting individuals and seemed to send a message that violence would be met with violence ...The reaction created a cycle of escalating responses from both sides."
That said, this report does nothing but in essence defend the state and the police from any wrong doing by not providing any real points of accountability or condemn any police or state tactics.
"The OIPRD report is proof that Toronto police will when given the chance systematically do everything they can to hurt, harass and humiliate people,” commented organizer Syed Hussan, who was among those arrested and charged.
Excuses for mass arrests
Queen's Park was the site of a mass arrest on Saturday June 26, 2010, despite the fact that the area had been previously selected as the official protest zone by the government; chaos and breaches of civil liberties followed. The motivation for the mass arrest was explained away as, "Protesters dressed in black were seen taking off their dark clothes and blending into the crowds."
It was during this police action at Queen's Park where John Pruyn had his prosthetic leg pulled off by police during his arrest.
Throughout the afternoon of June 26, leading up to the Queen's Park arrests, the OIPRD reports states there was "clearly a rising level of frustration among both the officers on the ground and the commanding officers in the MICC [Major Incident Command Centre] about the lack of control that the police appeared to have over the protest on the streets and their inability to stop the Black Bloc vandals."
This frustration is one of the major motivating factors that McNeilly blames for Chief Blair, Deputy Police Chief Warr, and night shift Incident Commander Superintendent Mark Fenton's subsequent actions.
"The night shift Incident Commander said Deputy Police Chief Warr told him that he wanted him to take back the streets," McNeilly writes. The night Commander told McNeilly: "I understood [Warr's] instructions to mean that he wanted me to make the streets of Toronto safe again. He wanted the streets that had been made unsafe by the terrorists that were attacking our city to be made safe again by restoring order."
Language is important and I want to stop and highlight here that activists are described by police as "terrorists that were attacking our city."
In OIPRD's conclusion regarding the mass arrest at Queen's Park, it found that, "In some cases the use of force was excessive."
During the night of Saturday June 26, 2010, at the Esplanade in what led to the Novotel Hotel arrests, police interviewed for the report stated they were worried that the night march would reach the security fence, so at 10:30pm, the march of 200-300 activists was ultimately boxed in by police lines, leading to another mass arrest. When the police declared the assembly unlawful and announced everyone would be arrested, no one from the group could leave since the police had already boxed everyone in.
"The night shift Incident Commander explained that he ordered the crowd to be boxed in and arrested because, as he said, ‘I wasn't able to box in Queen's Park, so the mobility was there and, again, highlighted my concern and the need for this boxing in.' He said he did not disperse the crowd because he needed to isolate the protesters and arrest them."
Queen and Spadian kettling 'unreasonable and unnecessary'
On Sunday, June 27, 2010, at the infamous Queen Street West and Spadina Avenue kettling of over 400 activists, media and bystanders, the report offers harsh critique of what occurred during the mass arrest. It also notes that the pressure - assisted by the mainstream media's focus on the kettling live during the mass arrest and afterwards - in the end drove Chief Blair to order that the people still detained after four hours in a severe thunderstorm "be released unconditionally and immediately."
By then, more than 300 people had been arrested or detained at the intersection, most of them for breach of peace. It was this mass arrest that boosted the total arrest count during the summit to over 1,000. The report concludes, "It was unreasonable and unnecessary to have continued over a four-hour period to arrest people one by one during a severe rainstorm."
Having been caught up in that mass arrest itself, I feel the incident deserves stronger language than "unreasonable and unnecessary."
Speaking of mass arrests, containment/kettling, the report notes that the tactic was used on at least ten occasions, as part of police strategy to "take back the streets" from the "terrorists."
The Toronto Star reported that, after review, the Toronto Police Service would no longer be employing the containment crowd control tactic on activists in the future. Whether this is ultimately true or not, the notion that police could break their word and could kettle as many activists as they choose and arrest everyone puts a chill on the Charter-protected right to democratically assembly in Canada.
This notion strongly goes against the report's own premise that citizens and the police must work in a partnership during demonstrations as again, it is not citizens but the police who have the power to declare assemblies illegal.
On another disappointing note, I don't feel the report spent enough time actually analysing the true impact of the officer identification issue, treating the issue as a bureaucratic annoyance to the compiling of the OIPRD report, as opposed to a severe breach of trust between the police and the public. Over 90 officers were found to have removed their badges to avoid identification while policing the summit.
The 'hell' that was the Eastern Avenue Detention Centre
The infamous Eastern Avenue Detention Centre, the Prisoner Processing Centre (PCC) where numerous issues were raised concerning the treatment of activists while in custody, was described in the report as meant to hold only 500 individuals. Ultimately, the multiple failures there were blamed on lack of training and lack of foresight regarding the number of breach of peace arrests. "There was no policy or procedure for the prisoners to speak with a lawyer or to have access to a telephone, and no process in place to release them."
The report "raised 12 main issues of concern about the PPC: access to duty counsel, access to a telephone, meals, overcrowding, excessive period of detainment, environmental conditions, privacy, handling of property, medical attention, treatment of young offenders, use of flex cuffs, and strip searches."
No twelve points, no amount of words, can accurately describe the "hell" of the Eastern Avenue Detention Centre, or the impact of the 1,112 arrests on those people actually arrested.
This highlights more of what this report does not, cannot, provide. While the report provides many points of blame, it can analyze and sterilize but it cannot tell the story of what it felt like to have your civil liberties violated.
Consider the case of Byron Sonne, who was held in pre-trial custody for almost 11 months, was found not guilty of four charges related to the G20 but who lost his wife, family, major work prospects and eleven months of his life.
Report does not deal with human impact of criminalization of dissent
A massive G2O undercover police surveillance project against community organizers before and during the G20 led to 17 activists being charged with conspiracy and councelling related offences, in connection to their alleged roles in organizing the G20 Summit protests.
Restricted conditions such as non-association bail conditions that broke up families; the financial expense of defending themselves in court; and the sheer amount of time spent in states of anxiety over government charges cannot be profiled in a report that does not deal with the human aftermath of a police state on steroids.
Of those original 17 community organizers arrested for conspiracy, counselling and other politically-related charges in an attempt to further criminalize dissent, a later plea deal allowed for six convictions, with the remaining 11 going free.
Leah Henderson, Amanda Hiscocks, Peter Hopperton, Alex Hundert, Erik Lankin and Adam Lewis pleaded guilty to charges laid against them by the state and are currently serving time in prison or will begin their prison sentences over the summer. The loss of these experienced community organizers has had a profound impact on the communities they represented and defended.
The OIPRD report can lay blame where it likes, but a report without follow-up action by the police or the state cannot provide true accountability.
Police not truly held accountable
I say true accountability because while Toronto Police Chief Bill Blair announced two days after the OIPRD report was released that he is seeking permission from the Police Services Board to charge at least 30 of his own officers with misconduct under the Police Services Act, it should be noted that these are not criminal charges and officers found guilty could face penalties ranging from loss of pay to loss of their jobs.
Only one officer, Toronto Police Const. Babek Andalib-Goortani, has been criminally charged for his role in allegedly assaulting activist Adam Nobody during the G20.
Toronto activist David Khan reacted angrily, "These were criminal acts. And we want criminal charges. The two senior officers who retired can't even be disciplined as, according to Blair, they are no longer under his jurisdiction."
Commenting on the report, Alex Hundert stated, "Nothing in this report surprised me, and in the position I'm in, I can only hope that when people realize that no accountability or justice are going to result from this report, that they do something useful with their anger and frustration, instead of just becoming disillusioned"
For despite all the words written and anger directed towards the police at the end of the day, the truth is the status quo relationship between the police and activists will remain the same, in a cheap narrative of good cop and bad protester.
Jeff Shantz, in an opinion piece he wrote right after the G20, wrote, "Some seem to believe that the police were supposed to be there to protect them or that the police provide the means for 'protest' to take place. The concern here is that the discussion is being framed in a rather liberal framework that presents a proper, even desirable, form of state policing, a good way of policing against a bad, that police in Toronto presumably strayed from."
The police during the G20 were just doing their job. That's the problem.
You can read part I of this feature here.
krystalline kraus is a regular blogger and correspondent for rabble.ca.
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