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Activists need to keep pushing back against kettling and other tactics of police violence

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It’s easy for me to remember what happened in June 25, 26 and 27, 2010, for the G20 Summit demonstrations in Toronto when the city was taken over by thousands of police officers -- and their overreactions, mistakes and mass kettlings. The impact of these days of action are still being felt.

While the acute trauma from the demonstration, especially for people who had contact with the police that led to their mistreatment by way of detention, arrest or incarceration at the infamous Eastern Avenue Detention Centre.

I attended and testified at the Canadian Civil Liberties Association public hearing, which were later detailed in a cumulative report titled Breach of PeaceI witnessed first hand testimony concerning how people felt the police had far outstepped the bounds of their profession.

This alleged mistreatment also led to a few different legal fact finding missions with potential legal ramifications.

The good news is the G20 class action lawsuit was certified in November 2016. What that is that the lawsuit has been approved when a class action is approved by the courts to proceed as a class action.

Defined in general terms, a "class action, class suit, or representative action is a type of lawsuit where one of the parties is a group of people who are represented collectively by a member of that group."

In this class action, it pertains to people, "Two class actions have been commenced following the events that transpired during the G20 Summit. The action Good v. Toronto Police Services Board ... relates to those people who were arrested or detained in one of the five locations listed below. The action Taylor v. Toronto Police Services Board .... relates to those individuals who were arrested and imprisoned in the temporary detention centre located on Eastern Avenue (the "Detention Centre") beginning on June 26 or 27, 2010.

These actions were certified as class proceedings by Order of the Divisional Court, dated August 6, 2014. Appeals to both the Ontario Court of Appeal and the Supreme Court of Canada have been denied and therefore these actions will proceed as class actions. The Defendant denies all of the allegations in this action."

Essentially, the class action includes two groups of people, though it is entirely possible to belong to both class actions.

G20 Lawsuits:

The class members in Taylor v. Toronto Police Services Board are those individuals who were arrested and imprisoned in the Detention Centre beginning on June 26 or 27, 2010.

The class members in Good v. Toronto Police Services Board -- at $45 million dollars -- are those individuals who were:

 1. (Like myself) Arrested or subjected to mass detention in a police cordon in the vicinity of the intersection of Queen Street West and Spadina Avenue on the afternoon of June 27, 2010, and eventually released without charge;

2. Arrested or subjected to mass detention in a police cordon in the vicinity of the Hotel Novotel Toronto Centre on the Esplanade on the evening of June 26, 2010, and eventually released without charge,

3. Arrested or subjected to mass detention in a police cordon in the vicinity of the Eastern Avenue Detention Centre on the morning of June 27, 2010, and eventually released without charge

4. Arrested or subjected to mass detention in a police cordon in the vicinity of the intersection of Queen Street West and Noble Street on June 27, 2010, and eventually released without charge; and

5. Arrested at the University of Toronto Graduate Students' Union ­­­­­­­­­­­

Many activists were traumatized by the police actions over the demonstrations that occurred Friday June 25, Saturday June 26 and Sunday June 27, 2010. I can easily remember the dates. I was detained in the hellish kettle on Sunday when the skies literally opened up and the rain poured down, soaking and chilling to the bone anyone who did not have shelter or an umbrella.

The kettling incident on Sunday was headline news on Monday in Canada's most read newspaper and some like the Toronto Sun sensational it for a few reasons -- to sway public opinion concerning the police’s actions to one that could have been seen as the police, at a cost of more than a million dollars, heroically defending Toronto from urban terrorists.

Other media headlines lamented the huge police overspending, overreaction and overkill. It was in fact the largest mass arrest in Canadian history. Even larger than any hockey-based riot.

For anyone detained or arrested and seeking recourse, the class action will likely be their last attempt to secure justice.

What is Kettling?

The kettling incident made headline news.

According to Wikipedia, "Kettling (also known as containment or corralling) is a police tactic for controlling large crowds during demonstrations or protests. It involves the formation of large cordons of police officers who then move to contain a crowd within a limited area."

In the U.K. there was a kettling incident at a 2009 G20 Summit meeting in London. During the demonstration, especially outside the Bank of England, eye witness accounts state that there thousands of demonstrators were kettled for up to eight hours. As with the Toronto kettle the next year, parents of children could find out no information about their kin; plus the whereabouts of people who got swept up in the kettle just for being at the wrong place at the wrong time.

John O'Connor, a former Met officer, criticized the tactic. "They are using this more and more," he said. "Instead of sending snatch squads in to remove those in the crowd who are committing criminal offences, they contain everyone for hours. It is a retrograde step ... it is an infringement of civil liberties." 

The tactic was brought to the courts by members of the kettle, seeking to contradict police PR that the only people who stayed trapped for multiple hours inside the kettle were the ones who wanted to be there. As you could leave if you agreed to give your name and have your photo taken by police.

In the aftermath of the G20 kettling in Toronto, many members of the public wanted answers as to why the attempted arrest of hundreds of activists had to happen, and anger towards who ordered it.

Toronto Police Superintendent Mark Fenton was the most senior officers who ordered the mass arrest on Sunday. There is speculation that the strong action was a punitive reaction to the take-over of the downtown core by activists the day before.

Numerous police vehicles were set on fire and one officer unfortunately had to abandon his vehicle when it became swarmed on Queen Street, near the intersection of Queen Street West and Spadina Avenue where the kettle occurred the following day.

The other kettle that occurred during the G20 actions was at the Esplanade hotel on Saturday night.

For his actions, Fenton was the only senior police officer to receive formal reprimand for the three counts of misconduct under the Police Services Act for ordering the two mass arrests -- which includes the prolonged kettle at Queen and Spadina.

Instead of losing his job, Fenton was scheduled to lose 30 vacation days and receive an official reprimand in his permanent file.

As of April, 2017, Fenton wanted his guilty verdict overturned. Fenton is seeking to have the commission find him not guilty on all charges. As well, he is asking for a new hearing and/or for the penalty of 30 days lost vacation to be struck down and replaced by formal reprimands, the most lenient sentence available for professional police misconduct under Ontario's Police Services Act. 

There is an opposing view regarding Fenton's fate. As the Toronto Star reported, “Lawyers for two complainants unlawfully detained at Queen and Spadina say in written submissions that the penalty is 'unreasonable and irreconcilable with the record,' and that Fenton should be dismissed."

The Toronto Star then later reported in 2011 that, "the Toronto police will never again use the controversial crowd control technique known as kettling."

That does not mean activists are 100% safe, and I think it is imperative that activists today continue to push back against such tactics as kettling, as much for the sake of democracy as for their own safety.

Image: Flickr/chrishuggins

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