We didn’t need Ontario Ombudsman Andre Marin’s report on the events of the G20 protests in Toronto to tell us what is patently clear: That our civil liberties were violated. But Marin’s report, “Caught in the Act”, stands as a legitimate record of the violations perpetrated against the people of Toronto by our own security forces, some of whom deliberately removed their identification badges while they proceeded to act in a manner that ignored the very existence of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
There is so much that was wrong that weekend that Toronto is still experiencing some measure of post-traumatic shock and more people are now beginning to speak out.
Marin’s investigation revealed that at the request of Toronto Police Chief Bill Blair the McGuinty government granted, in secret, temporary enactment of an old law requiring civilians to remain five metres away from the security fence that was erected around the periphery of the G20 meeting site, the Metro Convention Centre on Front Street. This, Marin said, “should never have been enacted” and “was almost certainly beyond the authority of the government to enact”.
Yet the security forces used the law to enforce a five-kilometre limit. How this could have been misunderstood remains a mystery since Chief Blair did not cooperate with Marin’s investigation.
Moreover, it was the police who directed protesters to Queen’s Park. They would have had to know whether or not that was a legitimate location for protest. Yet, protesters there were assaulted by the police. That is where a squad of six police officers, at least one of whom was wearing a Toronto police crest, but no name tag, beat Adam Nobody.
Nobody has since received an apology from the Chief, but no officer has been made to face charges for the assault since the Special Investigations Unit’s examination of Nobody’s complaint could not identify any of the officers.
Perhaps the greatest shock for protesters and residents of those upscale condos who had to go through all kinds of security clearances – and the many who were among the more than 1000 who were ‘kettled’ on lower Spadina Avenue in the driving rain on the final day of the summit – is that they were being treated in a way that – being White and middle class as most of them were – they would never have expected from the police.
Violations of rights, unwarranted assaults, demeaning language and treatment are tactics far too many from Black and poor communities have come to expect as unwritten and unspoken standard operating procedure from some overzealous cops, but not these folks.
But the abuse, actually the absolute dismissal of civil liberties, was more than a disgrace. It is not just that the police failed in their duty to respect the rule of law as well as the Charter of Rights, their over the top tactics on the second day of the protests was too much and too late. Why, for example, did police stand by and watch those engaging in so-called ‘black-block’ maneuvers – the real law-breakers – smash the storefronts of small businesses and set fire to a police vehicle? That was so painful to watch, especially the police vehicle on fire. We are still trying to comprehend what happened and what we as a city lost in that chain of events.
Obviously, the rights and liberties that we take for granted are not fixed and immutable.
No one was standing up for our Charter rights – not the federal Stephen Harper government which thrust us into this mess in the first place; not the Dalton McGuinty provincial government which gave law enforcement the authority to trample on the rights of citizens and, frightfully, not the police. How could our rights be so easily cast aside?
We like to pat ourselves on the back, smug in the thinking that human rights violations happen in other places, not here. But it now seems that we are not exempt. If the events of the G20 do nothing else they should serve as a very clear reminder that we must continue to stand on guard for the liberties we have worked so hard to win, for even the most well-meaning officials can put in motion the process that will rip them away from us in an instant.