G20 Report: A Slap on the Wrist for Officers, Not a Significant Change

This past week marked the deadline to file legal claims against actions taken during G20 protests in Toronto. This event has the largest arrest record in Canada’s history—police brutality and misconduct ran rampant during the summit in 2010, and tactics similar to the ones used then are now being used in Montreal on student protesters.

The G20 summit in Toronto was held on June 26th and 27th of 2010, at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre in the downtown core. Approximately 21,000 security personnel were deployed to police this event as well as the G8 summit in Huntsville, Ontario. Overall there were over 1,100 arrests made—although the exact number cannot be known due to discrepancies in the records taken that weekend. As of December 2011, out of these 1,100 arrests, there were only 330 people charged, and only 32 found guilty of their charges. For a recap of the “hot-spots” and mass arrests that happened that weekend, this interactive map is very useful.

Early in May 2012 the Office of the Independent Police Review Director (OIPRD) issued Policing the Right to Protest: G20 Systematic Review Report, which found that during several of these incidents many people were deprived of their Charter rights because of the gross misconduct of police officers. Charging individual officers has been challenging because several officers removed their ID badges, but following the report 21 officers are now facing 28 charges in courts.

Riot police block streets during the G20 Summit in 2010 (Image courtesy of Louis Tam, Josh Sam, and Duke 360 of blogto.com)

Krystalline Kraus from rabble.ca wrote about the report in a 2-part series, and raised some concerns missed by the mainstream media. While the report criticizes the actions of officers, it places the blame ultimately on their superiors and on the lack of organization in the security apparatus. It states that individual officers were simply doing their jobs, and that problematic orders were coming down from senior officers. Kraus points out that the report is right, and the police officers were only doing their jobs. But this is exactly the problem with the report and Kraus’ analysis:  the responsibility of individual police officers is downplayed, except in just a few instances.

The OIPRD report is being hailed by many mainstream sources as a brave source of truth confronting the Toronto Police Services, but it comes as no surprise that activists who were impacted by police actions during the summit are unimpressed. In its recommendations the report simply calls for better planning and different tactics, but does nothing to criticize or condemn the structure of the security apparatus. Also, as Kraus rightly points out, the report does nothing to address the human aspect of these crimes. The violation of rights that it describes can be extremely traumatic, a sentiment that cannot be adequately described in the phrase “they were deprived of their Charter rights.”

The police tactic of “kettling” was used in several of the mass arrests during the G20 demonstrations. It is now being used as a crowd control tactic in Montreal, and has resulted in the arrest of over 500 people in a single incident. Kettling is a highly controversial tactic in which riot police surround crowds and contain them, usually without an exit route, for long periods of time. In Toronto, during the Queen and Spadina mass-arrest, this was used to allow the officers to arrest over 400 protesters, one at a time, during a thunderstorm.  One officer decided to release those in medical distress, but even then his superiors required that he “make it look like an arrest.”

The security state has adopted an authoritarian structure making it inconceivable for officers on the ground to deny orders, even if they think the orders may violate the rights of citizens. Hundreds, if not thousands, of officers followed orders instructing them to deprive citizens of their Charter rights without question, and some officers unfortunately did so with relish. In Montreal, during the current student protests, there are reports of police brutality that are similarly chilling.

In addition to the violent actions of the security structure during the G20 protests, 17 community organizers were charged with conspiracy. This was possibly due to the investigations of two undercover officers, one of whom is now being sued for $4 million by Julian Ichim—an activist from Kitchener-Waterloo who was used by the officer to gain the trust of the group members. The co-accused community organizers were given non-association orders as part of their bail conditions, which resulted in dividing families, friends, and partners. Ultimately the group opted for a plea bargain:  six of their members pleaded guilty to counseling charges, and 11 had their charges dropped. This action was taken to accomplish specific goals: to avoid deportation of some members, and to avoid setting a legal precedent for conspiracy charges. Their full statement can be seen or read at their blog site, and many have released individual statements or are blogging about their experience. Mandy Hiscocks, sentenced to 20–24 months and currently serving time in the Vanier Centre for Women, is blogging about her experience in jail regularly. This group was targeted for their political beliefs, and their communities have suffered from being deprived of their friends and active organizers.

The Quebec student strike is heating up. The strike has been transformed from a tuition debate to a societal struggle. Many hail the Quebec strike as the “next Occupy,” while Chris Hedges reminds us that this is one of the key movements in the struggle against the corporate authoritarian state—this was made all the more evident with the passing of the draconian Law 78. With a struggle of Quebec’s magnitude and making the political statements that it is, student activists could be targeted in much the same way the 17 co-accused G20 activists were targeted. As the strike progresses we now see more legal battles being waged, after police brutality is faced on the streets.

The Quebec protesters and subsequent movements have a lot to learn from the G20 protests in Toronto. The transgressions by the state and police are so much deeper than the OIPRD report suggests—and they could happen again, because far from being isolated incidents the repression of the G20 appears ever more characteristic of the punitive security state that Canada has now become.  Seeing a few police officers face charges is not going to fix these transgressions, only cultural and societal change will.
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By Alexandra Epp

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