Rights groups demand probe of repression at Toronto G20 meet

More than 560 were arrested in Toronto over the weekend as the G20 meeting was held behind the tightest security cordon in the summit’s history. Violence began after a small group of “black bloc” anarchists broke away from the main march to smash the windows of banks and chain stores and torch two police cars. But hundreds of peaceful protesters were swept up by police who used batons, tear gas, pepper spray and plastic bullets. It is said to be the first time Toronto police have used tear gas.

Both Amnesty International Canada and the Canadian Civil Liberties Association are calling for investigations into the police action. Amnesty said that even before the anarchist rampage, “protesters were faced with high fences, new weaponry, massive surveillance, and the intimidating impact of the overwhelming police presence.”

Toronto Police Chief Bill Blair said that an internal task force will examine “all aspects” of summit policing by the municipal forces, Ontario Provincial Police and RCMP in the G20 Integrated Security Unit. The report, which has no deadline, will be submitted to the Toronto Police Services board, comprised of city councilors and public representatives.

Police also displayed items allegedly seized during raids, including a machete, bike helmets, body armor and gas masks during the morning news conference. “They came to attack our city. They came to attack the summit. They came to commit crimes and to victimize people in the city,” Blair said, calling the items proof of a “criminal conspiracy” by radical elements. (Toronto Star, June 29; The Guardian, June 27)

There were similar headlines after the Geneva WTO summit last year.

See our last post on the struggle in Canada.

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  1. Canada: government to probe G-20 security measures
    Ontario Ombudsman Andre Marin announced July 9 that he is launching an investigation into the enactment of a local regulation that broadened the scope of police search and seizure powers in certain areas of Toronto during the recent Group of 20 summit. The investigation will examine the involvement of the Ministry of Community Safety and Correctional Services in originating the regulation as well as the way information about the regulation was disseminated to the public prior to its enactment. Rights groups and legal scholars have both expressed concern over possible civil liberties violations during the summit, particularly with regards to the enactment of regulation 233/10, which they contend may have been a violation of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Under the regulation, enacted under the Public Works Protection Act, anyone present in certain areas of Toronto could be required to identify themselves to police or be subjected to a search. Legal scholars argue that the public was not given enough notice about the regulation.

    The Ombudsman’s office stated it has received 22 complaints regarding G-20 security measures, including allegations that lack of government transparency led to “an atmosphere of secrecy and confusion and contributed to violations of civil liberties.” Marin said, “The complaints we’ve received so far raise serious concerns about this regulation and the way it was communicated, and I think there is a very strong public interest in finding out exactly what happened and how that affected the rest of the events of the G20 weekend.” The inquiry is expected to be completed within 90 days. (Jurist, July 9)