On Tuesday afternoon, NDP leader Andrea Horwath introduced a private member’s bill that would establish an independent commission to perform a full public inquiry into the decisions and actions of the McGuinty government and the police during the G20 Summit.

There were more than 1,100 arrests that weekend, making it the largest mass arrest in Canadian history; extensive violations of civil liberties and charter rights; peaceful protesters silenced; and innocent bystanders detained.

“There are now six separate reviews underway,” said Horwath. “Yet none of these has the mandate or the jurisdiction to ask the most fundamental questions or provide Ontarians with the answers they are seeking.”

Horwath’s bill requires that a commission shall be appointed within 60 days after the G20 Public Inquiry Act comes into force that will make recommendations to the Ontario government and police about how to reduce spending, arrests and violence at similar future events.

The commission will also report on whether the rights and freedoms of Ontarians were put in jeopardy during the G20 Summit and the exercise of power under the Public Works Protection Act.

The Act calls for the commission to begin the inquiry within 60 days of being appointed, submit an interim report within six months after the inquiry begins and present a final report within 12 months after the inquiry starts.

When asked whether the commission’s report might get lost in the shuffle as time passes or a change in government, Horwath said, “I think there’s more risk of getting lost in the shuffle with the mishmash of reviews that are underway. There are six other reviews under way. Those are what’s going to get lost in the shuffle. The public inquiry is the only thing that will survive governments and provide the information we want.”

Howard Morton, a lawyer who defended the only person charged under the province’s Public Works Protection Act, said the bill has the support of the Law Union of Ontario.

“It represents what we have been trying to do at various levels,” he said. “None of those five or six reviews are able or willing to look at the sort of thing that a public inquiry can do. A review is quite crippled when it comes to attempting to learn the full picture of what happened on that weekend. The real important issues will slip through the cracks and we’ll be left with a hodgepodge of reports that really go nowhere.”

According to Morton, none of the reviews have the power of subpoena or the ability to compel documents, adding, “The federal government has completely stonewalled any attempt to find out what their role was and, in particular, what the role of the RCMP was.”

He urged the public to get behind the bill, saying their rights and freedoms are in peril.

“If the public accepts what the police did and lets this just ‘go way’, then the risk is that the police will believe in the future they are entitled to do that (what happened on the G20 Summit weekend),” said Morton. “You need clear guidelines about what the police can and cannot do in terms of stopping people and demanding identification and demanding to know why you are where you are.”

John Bonnar

John Bonnar is an independent journalist producing print, photo, video and audio stories about social justice issues in and around Toronto.