Monday, June 28, 2010


The incredibly ill conceived meeting of the G20 in downtown Toronto is over, but the aftermath remains. The final number of arrests totalled over 900. This puts this event in a category of its own. During the implementation of the War Measures Act in October 1970 only 497 people were detained. It seems that Steven Harper has got just what he wanted, political cover to justify his blowing a billion dollars on his come-as-you-aren't party. The final total may reach well beyond 900 if the police follow the same path that they have done to now.

The same path...note a couple of salient facts. One is that few (perhaps none) of the rioters were arrested during the actual riots. In actual fact many have accused the police of inactivity during the actual episodes of vandalism. The second is that almost all of those arrested were picked up while either peacefully protesting or when not protesting at all ie at residences. Many ordinary citizens, including several journalists and lawyers, were scooped up for the "crime" of just being in the proximity of police officers pumped up on adrenalin. The police also made what is probably a grievous error of not just arresting but also beating a reporter for the British newspaper The Guardian. No doubt there'll be a lot to be said about this "little" mistake in days to come. In one of the more ironic moments during the events the police arrested and imprisoned two photographers from the right wing National Post newspaper. The NP story on them confirmed everything that political arrestees had claimed about conditions in the holding facility.

In the end it may be possible that there will not be a single conviction for any act of violence given that the police were quite reluctant to make arrests when the events were happening. many commentators have found the whole way in which the police responded to be suspicious ,especially given the way that police cars were seemingly abandoned to provide photo-op targets for the Black Bloc. As can be seen below this suspicion is hardly confined to conspiracy theorists as the Canadian Civil Liberties Association mentions this disparity in their press release. (see below).

Whatever the minutiae of whether violence was indeed deliberately allowed to occur unchecked there can be little doubt that the general tone of the police tactics was set by their political masters. By this I don't mean micromanaging each raid or whether violence was to be allowed (or even encouraged) and for how long. It was that the decision to make a massive show of force and concentrate the majority of force on the general protest movement was very much a political decision. Depending upon the ever dependable Black Bloc to give the properly photogenic incidents the government can come out claiming that, "see, this is why we needed a billion dollars worth of security".

Will it work, or will the overkill of force blow up in the government's face ? It's hard to say. The summit began with over two thirds of Canadians of the opinion that holding the summit was not worth the cost. As the focus of news gradually shifts from images of perhaps 100 clowns at most breaking windows and spray painting walls things may fall into a bit better perspective with story after story about ordinary people caught up in what is the largest mass arrest in Canadian history. Also, in the end any damage caused by the Black Bloc's little spree pales into insignificance compared to the damage that the government's decision has done to Toronto and to the general Canadian taxpayer.

Let's begin with the response of Amnesty International who while deploring the actions of the Black Bloc look at the larger picture of the overwhelming police presence. My greatest quibble with what follows is that any such inquiry should extend far beyond the police and into the way that the decisions about the general methods of security were made politically.
Toronto and the G8/G20:
Peaceful protest suffers amidst heavy security measures and acts of vandalism

As the Annual General Meeting of Amnesty International Canada (English branch) concluded today in Toronto, Amnesty International members from across the country expressed their very deep concern that important rights associated with peaceful protest have suffered considerably in the city over the weekend.

In connection with the G20 leaders summit, the heavy police and security presence that has permeated the city for several days, as well as acts of vandalism and other violence by numbers of individuals, have contributed to an atmosphere of apprehension and fearfulness that has led many individuals to refrain from or limit their involvement in peaceful demonstrations and other activities.

At a time when the public should be encouraged to actively engage in debate and discussion about pressing global issues, the security measures that were put in place in Toronto in the lead up to the G20 Summit held in the city instead narrowed the space for civic expression and cast a chill over citizen participation in public discourse. Many thousands of individuals did take part in public events such as the “People First” demonstration during the afternoon of June 26, but felt apprehensive while doing so. Many others did not take part out of a sense of unease and fearfulness.

In meeting in Toronto at the same time as G8 and G20 leaders have held their summits in Canada, Amnesty International members have sought to draw attention to important human rights issues that should be priority concerns for both bodies. We have highlighted that it is a particularly key juncture in the development of the G20 as an emerging body that will exert growing influence on world economic, political and social affairs. We have emphasized, therefore, that we look to them to take action to ensure that human rights are brought to the heart of the global effort to fight poverty, particularly through the millennium development goals. We look to them to ensure that respect for universal human rights will become the hallmark of their deliberations and decision making.

Yet at a time when human rights need so very much to come to the fore, we have instead witnessed and experienced a curtailment of civil liberties. On the streets, protesters were faced with high fences, new weaponry, massive surveillance, and the intimidating impact of the overwhelming police presence. Combined with uncertainty and worry about unclear powers of arrest, this created an atmosphere in which countless individuals felt unable or too fearful to exercise their rights to freedom of expression and assembly and participate in rallies and other events which would have offered them an opportunity to express their views on a range of important national and international issues.

We unequivocally condemn the acts of vandalism and violence that have been carried out by numbers of individuals, particularly during the evening of June 26. Such acts are criminal and undermine the safety of the many thousands of individuals involved in peaceful protest. We recognize that police have a responsibility to respond to such actions, to protect public safety, prevent damage to property, and ensure the safety of leaders and other officials attending the G20 Summit.

There are concerns, however, about possible police excesses, including reports of journalists being arrested or constrained in the course of covering confrontations between police and demonstrators. In one reported case, the journalist was apparently beaten in the course of being arrested. Nearly 500 people are reported to have been arrested, as of the morning of June 27th. Witnesses have reported that some of those arrested appear to have been engaging in peaceful protest. It has not been possible to get clear information about which tactics and weapons police have deployed in the course of securing specific areas and responding to incidents of both violence and legitimate protest. This lack of clear information has further fueled misunderstanding and fears about police actions as protests are expected to continue.

The amount of money, reported to be in excess of $1 billion, that has been spent on security measures in Toronto over the past several days has been unprecedented. Yet on one hand extensive acts of vandalism and other violence were carried out and on the other hand thousands of individuals felt nervous and uneasy about exercising their right to engage in peaceful protest.

This cannot become the hallmark of how the G20 conducts its business. Instead, we call on G20 leaders to ensure that future Summits are carried out in ways that maximize rather than restrict rights associated with peaceful protest, particularly freedom of expression and assembly.

Lessons must be learned from these events. We call on the Canadian government and the government of the province of Ontario to cooperate in launching an independent review of the security measures that were put in place for the G8 and G20 Summits. The review should include opportunities for public input and the results should be released to the public. Among other issues, the review should consider:

•The impact of security measures, including decisions about the location and venues for the two summits, on the protection of human rights, including the freedoms of expression and assembly.

• The ways in which police operations and the use of legal provisions such as the Public Works Protection Act have impacted the rights of the many thousands of people living, working and operating businesses within and near the G20 security zone.

For further information contact:
Elizabeth Berton-Hunter, Media Relations
Cell phone: 416 904 7158
The statement from the Canadian Civil Liberties Association that follows below is a little more biting than Amnesty's and raises important points neglected by the Amnesty statement such as the minuscule size of the Black Bloc compared to the rest of the protests, the concentration of the police on peaceful protesters and their seeming neglect of the actual 'mini-riot', and also the somewhat "convenient" location (and possible abandonment) of the police cruisers that were burnt.
CCLA denounces the sweeping arrests at G20
June 27th, 2010
Reporters arrested, CCLA civil rights monitors arrested, over 500 people in detention, police unwilling to provide access to lawyers, cellphones seized, what is going on? Police will say that 4 to 7 police cars were set on fire and that there was much looting and spray painting, pop cans and rocks were thrown and more vandalism was planned at the fence or elsewhere. Is the policing proportionate to the threat?

Up until late Saturday afternoon, police actions had been restrained. Certainly, it had been disproportionate at times with hundreds of police officers surrounding 75 peaceful marchers, large groups of police officers circling one lone protester to search a back pack and umbrellas and water bottles being seized . We also witnessed people intercepted and detained, even charged for not identifying themselves. Friday’s marches were tense in a couple of places : police officers rammed their bicycles in protesters, verbal confrontations occurred but it ended peacefully. Saturday started out with the large People First march with a trajectory negotiated and approved by the police: down University, west on Queens, north on Spadina and back to Queen’s Park. The protest marshalls knew that there would be splinter groups wanting to reach the fence to spray it or put their banner up. Looters were also expected to take advantage of the situation.

And it happened: it is unclear why police cruisers would be in the vicinity of the protest. Throughout the week, police officers circulated in unmarked vans. While hundreds of riot police officers were blockading streets south of Queen, vandals got out and threw rocks along Queen and up Yonge (reports vary on the numbers, from 50 to 100). Confrontations occurred as well on King.

It is still unclear why the people gathered at Queen’s Park at 5 pm were suddenly charged by riot police. It appears that the small group of black clad vandals was still out to spray paint and throw rocks in windows. Certainly, however, not all those at Queen’s Park fell into this category. Since then, over 500 people have been arrested and none are being released. It would appear that the presumption of innocence and the protection against arbitrary arrest had been suspended during the G20.

CCLA is concerned about the conditions of detention: people were being denied access to lawyers, they were unable to contact their families and were not promptly released.

This post is also available in: French

No comments: