Email to my representatives on the G20

To: Rae.B@parl.gc.ca; gmurray.mpp@liberal.ola.org; councillor_rae@toronto.ca [That’s Bob Rae, MP, Glen Murray, MPP, and Kyle Rae, City Councillor]
CC: Harper.S@parl.gc.ca; Toews.V@parl.gc.ca; dmcguinty.mpp.co@liberal.ola.org; mayor_miller@toronto.ca  [That’s Prime Minister Stephen Harper, Minister of Public Safety Vic Toews, Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty, and Toronto Mayor David Miller]

All,

I write to you today as a resident of Toronto Centre (municipally, Ward 27), and as a Canadian citizen, to demand that all three levels of government work together to respond to the growing outrage against the actions of the police during the G20 Summit held in Toronto late last month.  I personally observed, but did not participate in, numerous peaceful protests over the course of the weekend.  There is no doubt in my mind that at least some, if not many, of the actions of the police over the course of the weekend were completely inappropriate and in many instances abusive of their power.

I understand that none of you were present at any of the demonstrations that took place, so I will recount briefly my personal experiences.  Over the course of the two days (June 26th and 27th), I witnessed the following:

On Saturday the 26th:

·         A large, peaceful, protest prevented by police from travelling South of Queen Street (understandable given the security concerns surrounding the Summit area) or West of Spadina Avenue (completely inexplicable).

·         Three or four dozen violent protestors (more appropriately, vandals) attacking small groups of police that had insufficient backup or support to help them defend themselves.

·         The destruction left behind by (presumably) these same people tearing up Queen and Yonge Streets, destroying countless properties.

·         Yonge Street businesses, recently damaged by these vandals, being looted by various passers-by and petty thieves while not one of the reported 5,000 police officers that were in town appeared to be anywhere nearby.

·         A peaceful group of people, most standing around looking confused, being charged at by police on the South lawn of Queen’s Park.  These police were giving no direction or explanation to the assembled crowd as to what was wanted of them or what they should be doing to avoid being charged at.  In the same incident, I witnessed police on horseback trample at least one person while parading through the crowd, again with no explanation.

·         This same group of people being forced Northwards away from Queen’s Park South and towards Queen’s Park North, the designated “Free Speech Zone,” but then prevented from entering Queen’s Park North by literally hundreds of riot police and forced onto the University of Toronto campus.  This group was then allowed to roam free on Bloor and Yonge Streets as the hundreds of police officers disappeared from behind them – not only did these demonstrators not damage any property in the process, I even witnessed some picking up toppled traffic cones and replacing them in their original position.  These were not violent people.

On Sunday the 27th:

·         A number of people being stopped and searched, usually against their will, by the police, usually without explanation as to why they were being stopped.

·         A line of riot police charging at a group of people singing our national anthem on Queen Street at Soho St.  At least one young woman had her finger broken in this charge, and there was no communication from any of the hundreds of police in the area that anyone was doing anything illegal or that we were not allowed to be there.  I had just arrived there, and was never told or directed by anyone along my way that it was unacceptable to be present.

·         The public detention, by ‘kettling,’ of various groups of people, most peacefully protesting and many just gawking at and photographing what was going on.

Finally on the 27th, after leaving the area at Queen and Soho just described, which was clearly becoming dangerous, I sought shelter from the (almost torrential) rain in front of the Art Gallery of Ontario at Dundas and Beverly Streets.  Other small groups of people (two to three people in a group at most) also waited out the rain there – some may have been protestors but certainly others appeared to be tourists trying to stay dry.  After some time of sitting there, a disproportionate number of Toronto Police appeared and screamed, generally, “move! now!” with no explanation as to how, where, or why.  They proceeded to search a handful of people against their will (and without arresting them or explaining the purpose of the search), and while leaving the area (into the still-pouring rain) I was personally searched against my will.  This search involved a series of questions I didn’t have answers to (like whether or not I had heard the “LRAD,” which I only later learned was the technical name for the sound cannon which was not actually used) and absolutely no explanation of why I was being searched or what the police wanted me to do – at the end I was asked “are you leaving now?” as if I should have known better, and heckled by another officer to “keep moving buddy.”  I was told that ‘this’ was no longer a peaceful assembly, even though I was neither wilfully assembling with anyone, nor doing anything un-peaceful.

These are not simply out-of-context anecdotes that I have picked up from the Internet or the media – I was witness to all of these events.  Any one of these incidents alone would be inappropriate behaviour for the police forces that I, as a Canadian and resident of Toronto and Ontario, have come to respect and support for their usually encouraging behaviour with respect to peaceful assemblies.  Combined, along with the now well-documented multiple-hour detention of hundreds of people at Queen and Spadina on Sunday night who were ultimately not even arrested (not to mention the arrest of dozens of journalists who were documenting the weekend’s events, and the also well-documented abuses and conditions at the Eastern detention centre), these represent a complete and systemic failure of our police forces and the governments that empower them.  The behaviour of the G20 police and ISU, in my opinion, is a slap in the face to free speech, freedom of peaceful assembly, freedom from unreasonable search and seizure, and even the principal of habeas corpus – all fundamental cornerstones of Canadian society and democracy.

Mine is only one story, and I know there are hundreds of Canadians who have worse ones.  I don’t expect any of you to immediately accept me at my word, or anyone for that matter.  For that reason, I am asking the following of you, our elected representatives:

1.       Immediately cease all actions and speeches that applaud or celebrate the actions of the police.  There are a number of people that are very upset by the actions (and inactions) of police during this time and such blind support by our politicians is further eroding the faith all of us have (or had) in our political systems and police officers.  A government or police force that is seen as illegitimate is in no one’s best interest.  I would argue that there is no doubt that police actions were at least in part inappropriate – but even if there is a small amount of doubt, we should not be lauding their actions until there is more certainty.

2.       Launch a full, independent, public inquiry that seeks to determine what problems occurred, how they occurred, and how they can be prevented from occurring in future.  This inquiry needs to be multi-jurisdictional and requires the support and participation of all three levels of government.  The police forces involved (RCMP, OPP, Toronto Police, as well as numerous other municipal police forces on loan – I personally observed at least York Region and Montreal police officers over the weekend) report to different jurisdictions and it is not acceptable for any one level of government to point blame at another, as has occurred to date.  The inquiry needs to be given the mandate to analyse all aspects of the Summit planning – from the choice of location to the security planning measures put in place to the numerous specific complaints lodged regarding the weekend’s events – regardless of which level of government was responsible.  It needs to further be given the mandate to determine which person, persons, or groups of people were responsible for the failures of police, and to provide clear remedial actions.  These actions need to be severe enough to deter future police forces from having such large-scale failures in future.  A public apology would be a good start, but does not go far enough.

3.       Provide compensation for local businesses affected by the damage that occurred during the Summit.  The fence that was erected served to protect only the businesses inside it – those outside were left not only exposed but completely unprotected by police.  Our society, and our business community, deserves better treatment.  Regardless of what level of government was responsible, someone needs to pay for this and this wrong needs to be made right.

4.       Provide immediate increases to funding for our judicial systems.  Not only do we need to restore funding to the Court Challenges Program of Canada (to ensure that our Charter rights can be defended, including by those who do not have the financial means to hire their own legal counsel), but we need to restore and increase funding for our court systems in general.  Some of those arrested during the G20 weekend are still in custody (two weeks later) – not because they have been denied bail but because our courts are so backlogged that they simply have not gotten around to having their bail hearings yet.  These are people who have not been convicted of crimes and have families and jobs to attend to – both of which they could easily lose through such a long period of incarceration without any sort of conviction.  This is not specifically a G20 problem; other innocent (not yet proven guilty) persons are regularly subjected to this abhorrent treatment on a regular basis.  This is not acceptable in any society – and especially not in Canada.

5.       Commit to never, ever, having a Summit of this level of significance in an urban environment in Canada again.  This whole mess could have been entirely avoided if the Summit had been held completely in a more rural location, or via videoconference. 

I thank you all for taking the time to read what I know is a lengthy email.  These issues go to the heart of our civil society (and the heart of what it means to be Canadian) and I sincerely hope they are all resolved to ensure that what occurred two weeks ago never occurs again.  This requires inter-governmental co-operation, and goes beyond partisan divides – people from all sides of the political spectrum agree that habeas corpus, freedom from unreasonable search and seizure, freedom of speech, and freedom of peaceful assembly are fundamental rights of humans in general and of Canadians specifically.  I have never been more embarrassed to be Canadian than I was two weeks ago, and I sincerely hope I never have to feel the shame that I did that weekend ever again.

Yours sincerely,

Neal Jennings


 

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