G20: Individual Freedom And Arbitrary State Action

July 26, 2010
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In a murder trial, if the police obtain evidence illegally and can't make their case otherwise, most of us accept the principle that a person we believe to be guilty should go free. We do this because we don’t want to live in a police state.

Our right to privacy, to avoid arbitrary search and seizure, to presumption of innocence  . . . in other words our right to due process trumps any single crime or conviction. It's why we have a Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Sometimes it’s excruciating to see vicious criminals walk, but we tolerate it to defend our collective and individual rights.

If we can accept this in a trial of a professional assassin or worse, why would anyone be willing to give up those rights for some broken windows and a few trashed police cars?

While some of Toronto’s citizens have put it all behind them, there a many who are demanding to know why fundamental Charter rights were violated during the policing of the G20 weekend . . . and more importantly, they want accountability so it doesn’t happen again. They believe as I do, that we must defend individual freedom against arbitrary state action.

So that’s why there is the demand for a public inquiry with teeth. One of several inquiries that will be conducted is to be carried out by The Toronto Police Services Board, a civilian body that oversees the Toronto Police Service, Canada's largest municipal police force. Its powers include establishment of police policy, budget approval, as well as the hiring or firing the Chief of Police.  The board decided to conduct an inquiry into G20 policing with an emphasis placed on governance, accountability, and transparency.  It will be appointing someone to head up the investigation, and on July 22nd, it welcomed members of the public to share their suggestions for items to be included in the investigation’s terms of reference. Here’s what a few of the speakers had to say.

Ph.D. student Vikram Mulligan told the Board: “The Chief of Police has admitted publicly that no special powers were granted by elected officials outside of the security zone.  This means he arbitrarily and unilaterally seized for himself the unlawful powers of search seizure and detention that were utilized.  I urge this board to include a directive for the independent reviewer to look at the systemic problem of police overstepping their authority and violating our rights during the G20.”

Doug Johnson-Hatlam, a minister of the Mennonite Central Committee said “the Miami model included letting black block rioters run rampant for a time to tar all protesters as vandals. I propose the inquiry find out if this tactic was considered?”

Toronto Resident Zach Dubinsky said: “Among the TPSB’s policies is a policy on the use of force requiring all use of force to comply with regulations 926.  Did police use of chemicals to disperse – tear gas, smoke bombs – constitute a violation of this regulation?”

Nathalie DesRosiers, general counsel for the Canadian Civil Liberties Association said: “We told the Toronto Police about our human rights monitors. Still, five of them were among the 1100 arrested. Someone with credibility must do this review in order to restore the public confidence in the police."

Prominent civil and constitutional attorney Julian Falconer represented ‘The Free Press Four’, a group of journalists who allege their rights were infringed upon by police during the G20. 

Falconer said: “We would be naive if we didn’t know that the contract Police Chief Blair made with the public, to protect peaceful protest, was broken.  Peaceful protesters were detained, peaceful protesters were arrested and peaceful protesters were jailed.”

“Why was the Police Services Board asleep at the switch? What happened?  These matters clearly implicate the Board and in being implicated it is important that you have no control over the terms of reference or financing of any inquiry.”

“There is a newly minted institution, the Office of the Independent Police Review Director (OIPRD), statutorily mandated to act on systemic complaints.  Ms. Des Rosiers of the CCLA has already made deputations to you and they have filed a systemic complaint, as have my clients. Why would the taxpayer pay for another process to happen when there is a statute that allows for you to be investigated without controlling the product? The Board should not investigate itself.”

Falconer also referred to the Police Services Board possible role in recommending the Province enact regulations under the draconian Public Works Protection Act. “I was advised this board knew that the Chief would be asking for the secret power.  Unless this info is wrong – and I don’t think it is – the question becomes… what happened?

A key question is will the review include the work of the Integrated Security Unit that directed and executed G20 policing operations? I made the point in an earlier article that the public record shows that the operational commander was Alphonse MacNeil, Chief Supt. of the RCMP. Will the review be able to look into who gave the orders to arrest a thousand people, most of whom had nothing to do with windows or police cars?

Here’s what defence attorney Howard Morton had to say: “What happened during the G20 was a military operation. The Public doesn’t even know who was in charge!  It is our respectful view that any policing that took place in Toronto falls under your jurisdiction. You are responsible to review that.  Otherwise, you will be accused of simply soft shoeing around what officers from various police forces may have done or may not have done.”

This really is the 64 thousand dollar question . . . or should I say the one billion dollar question.  Who decided that broken windows and burning police cars justify sacrificing our individual freedoms and gave a green light to arbitrary state action. Given that this whole fiasco was a federal operation, is it not time our Prime Minster said something? Can any inquiry that doesn’t follow the facts, even if it leads to the PMO, be credible?

I for one hope the TPSB appoint someone with the guts to do this. If they don’t, the citizen’s oversight process will be left a shambles. Same thing goes for the various other inquiries in the works.

Note: This blog was written together with my TRNN colleague Bert Riviere.

For more background watch:

CITIZENS DEMAND INQUIRY WITH TEETH

“WHO GAVE THE G-20 COMMANDER HIS COMMANDS?"

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Paul Jay

Paul Jay is the CEO and senior editor of The Real News Network. He has overseen the production of over 7,000 news stories and is the host of TRNN news analysis programming. Previously, he was executive producer of CBC Newsworld’s independent flagship debate show CounterSpin for its 10 years on air. He is an award-winning…