G20 trauma still unresolved

The hearings on the controversial events of the G20 summit conducted by the Toronto Police Service Board concluded on Monday with a relatively low turnout of about 30 attending the final session in Scarborough. Now we await Justice John W. Morden’s report on how it was that civilian oversight failed not just G20 protesters but in effect the people of Toronto.

We expect a precise explanation of what role the Board played in the lack of clarification on that five-metre zone outside the security fence. And did the Board provide instructions to police regarding Charter Rights during the G20? Did they have any say in the decision to use kettling on day-two of the summit? What agreements did they make with other police forces that participated? And how, if at all, were they involved in the set up and processing at the Prisoner Detention Centre?

The hearings themselves were not without controversy since the question was raised by lawyer Julian Falconer, among others, as to how the Board could avoid a conflict of interest in reviewing itself. Many who spoke at the hearings were people who marched in protest and felt the force of the uniformed and armoured police force last June.

We are just days away from the first anniversary of that harrowing weekend when thousands of police officers stood by in downtown Toronto while vandals trashed the downtown core using ‘Black Bloc’ tactics on day-one of the G20 summit. Officers then went overboard on day-two, illegally detaining thousands, intimidating and assaulting peaceful protesters and even innocent bystanders.

So many things went wrong outside the hermetically sealed summit meeting of world leaders that took place at the Metro Convention Centre on Front Street West that we have to wonder whether this process can even begin to restore the faith of a traumatized public in our protective forces.

At the same time that the Police Services Board hearings were being conducted, the federal auditor general issued a strong statement on the questionable way in which funding for the G8 and G20 preparations were handled by then industry minister Tony Clement and John Baird, who at that time was infrastructure minister. Baird approved the spending for 32 projects in Clement’s Muskoka riding using money the Conservatives had originally identified to ease Canada/U.S. border congestion. Millions were spent far away from the G8 meeting centre in the riding where Tony Clement was first elected as a Member of Parliament by the slimmest of margins. The auditor general’s report notes that there is no transparency and no paper trail to identify the unprecedented way in which the disbursement of funds was handled. The Conservatives have typically shrugged off the report and, to crown it off, Clement won re-election by a wider margin in the recent federal elections.

Another concern has been the absolute refusal of police officers to come forward and identify officers as the Special Investigations Unit looks into charges of unwarranted assaults during the protests. Officers also removed their name badges, which is against regulations.

Premier Dalton McGuinty has accepted some responsibility for the misuse or misconstruing of the five-metre perimeter law in respect to the security fence around the summit meeting zone and the secretive way in which the law was enacted just days before the summit was held.

But other levels of government and police forces have so far said and done nothing to restore public confidence in their judgment in this matter. From the federal level, there has been no meaningful reference to the aftermath by Prime Minister Stephen Harper – no apology to the city’s residents nor to the people who had their businesses damaged by vandals and who have not been fairly compensated for the damage to their stores and loss of income.

The feds intransigence has become Toronto’s headache and we are still cleaning up their mess.

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