The Ontario ombudsman's G20 report confirms the denial of our civil liberties

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Liberty Lost (G20, Toronto). Photo montage by Carole Conde and Karl Beveridge.


That's what the Ontario ombudsman's Andre Marin's report sounds like to me.

As a peaceful protester during the G20 demonstrations, I saw and experienced Toronto as a police state where the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms no longer applied. While the mainstream media couldn't tear the cameras away from burning cruisers, police officers were conducting illegal searches, used excessive force and the provincial government quietly withdrew our rights.

Of all the piece-meal inquiries and investigations looking into spending and security around the G20, Caught in the Act, Andre Marin's scathing report of the provincial government and police conduct, is the first to honestly acknowledge what thousands of peaceful protestors experienced that weekend: our civil liberties, those rules we thought shaped citizenship, were trashed.

Marin's discussion of the Public Works Protection Act raises a number of very disturbing questions. The original document was a "war measures act" that was created in 1939, shortly after Canada declared war on Germany. What does it mean when a war measures act can be re-hashed without our knowledge or consent? What does it mean when the government feels it's acting in our best interests to revamp a 71-year-old act that pre-dates the Charter of Rights by 43 years?

Perhaps it means that by agreeing to enact this measure, during what we have traditionally understood as a peacetime, the government (and Toronto Police Chief Bill Blair) is suggesting that hosting an international summit is the equivalent to being at war.

And maybe they're right.

Similar to a military, the G20 doesn't work according to democratic practices. A hierarchy of a few select leaders are afforded the power to make decisions and issue directives for the majority of the world. The top brass outline the plan while populations, some more than others, are expected to execute the orders.

Like war, the policies of the G20 have collateral damage. The "fiscal consolidation" urged by the G20 have translated into the austerity measures we are now seeing in places like the UK, Ireland and Greece. The G20's unrealistic and unremitting adherence to unlimited economic growth has consistently required deep cuts in social services which, at street level, is essentially a war waged against the poor and marginalized.

To fight a war, one of the main requirements of any government is to effectively repress all forms of dissent, especially at home. This is why our "freedom of thought, belief, opinion and expression," "freedom of peaceful assembly," "the right to be secure against unreasonable search or seizure," and "the right not to be arbitrarily detained or imprisoned," as protected under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms since 1982, were not adhered to on that now infamous weekend in June.

So the provincial government changed the rules, at the request of Chief Blair, and attempted to quietly dismantle our rights. In effect, the war was brought to the citizens and demonstrators of Fortress Toronto via illegal searches, falsely interpreted laws, rubber bullets, tear gas, kettlings, mass arrests and arbitrary beatings.

Thankfully we haven't turned away from this unexpected war.

Despite the heavy-handed policing that attempted to scare people off the streets and into silence, thousands refused to ignore the suspension of our rights. Thousands decided that dissent is a valuable means of protecting our rights and freedoms.

It is through protest we are able to speak back to institutions like the G20, Toronto Police Services and the provincial government. It is through protest that we indicate our non-compliance with abuse of power, intimidation tactics and injustice. It is through protest that we oppose the G20's wars.

The hundreds of complaints, photos, videos and statements protestors provided were the foundation upon which Marin could build his report. Without our presence on the streets taking photos, filming, recording and uploading, the denial of our Charter rights could have easily slipped into the past. Especially with Chief Blair working so hard to withhold information, dismiss the illegality of the supposed five-metre law (which never existed) and attempting to discredit activists' accusations of excessive force.

The worst thing we can do is collectively turn a blind eye to war, allowing its violence and injustice to fester in the dark. If we silently allow our rights to be removed, even for a weekend, we are paving the road to repetition and escalation. Marin's report is a validation of dissent as a form of political engagement. But, perhaps Marin knows this already. Hopefully his report will help educate our government.

Sarah Jean Harrison is a Toronto-based freelance writer, social justice activist, feminist, community artist and university instructor.

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