“I know I am responsible for the conduct of my officers. I take that very, very seriously and I think public confidence as well is dependent on ensuring that police officers are subject to the rule of law and due process and I want to assure them … that that will take place.”
This was Toronto Police Chief Bill Blair following the recent release of a damning report on the behaviour of police officers two years ago during the G20 Summit.
Does that sound like an apology? Or is it more like the kind of circuitous language we are used to hearing from federal politicians who have made it a standard to never clarify, never back down and never apologize?
Whatever it is, it does not sound like the kind of expression of regret that needs to follow the release of the 300-page report from the Office of the Independent Police Review Director (OIPRD) that was critical of police handling of security during the Summit which was held in Toronto over two days at the end of June 2010.
We expect more from the head of the police force of Canada’s largest city, and after the myriad violations perpetuated by members of our police on innocent citizens of this city during the G20 weekend, we deserve better.
It was distressing for us that police stood by while disruptive forces hiding themselves among law abiding demonstrators committed acts of vandalism including destroying police vehicles and smashing store windows. Then, when they were ready to act, it was on ordinary citizens and peaceful protesters they let loose, including the ‘kettling’ of hundreds, many of whom were not even protesters, penning them in like animals at Queen and Spadina in a torrential downpour, and arresting them one by one over a four-hour period and charging them with disturbing the peace and other minor offences.
The further detention of over 1,100 people in a holding centre on Eastern Ave. that seemed designed to humiliate and to ensure as much discomfort as possible was also shocking. At least one person claimed to have been held handcuffed for 24 hours.
Blair apparently did not have a clear understanding of a hastily and secretly enacted Public Works Protection Act, meant to be in effect in a five-metre zone along the periphery of the security fence erected around the Metro Convention Centre where world leaders were meeting in Toronto. Instead, police officers stopped and searched all manner of citizens throughout the downtown core because officers were functioning with the understanding that the act allowed for such procedures.
Worse, officers were violently confronting demonstrators even in a location far from the Summit’s location in an area at Queen’s Park that authorities had designated for the purpose of peaceful demonstration.
The OIPRD report is clear in calling these actions violations of civil liberties.
But it also points out that there was not enough time to perfect a plan to manage some 5,400 officers from three levels – the RCMP, the Ontario Provincial Police and Toronto Police Service – with only four months to plan an operation the size and logistics of which had never been carried out before.
The refusal by federal officials to listen to the advice of those in Toronto, in particular then mayor David Miller, who suggested that it would have been more practical from a logistical point of view to hold the Summit on the grounds of the Canadian National Exhibition (CNE), is also a key contributing factor to the breakdown in policing. The chaos that ensued and the acts of violence carried out mainly by police has largely been attributed to lack of adequate communication between the various forces in town and the lack of preparedness to function on the scale required by the operation.
We disagree, however, with those calling for Blair’s resignation. He has, overall, proven himself to be an able leader who has been responsive to the demands of this city.
But we need to know that he and his senior officers truly understand the pain that was inflicted on this city and regret the actions of those who were responsible.