Toronto defence lawyer Howard Morton refers to the G20 summit in Toronto last June as “my weekend in Argentina.” He compares it to the oppression of a dictatorship and to what happened here 1970, when Pierre Trudeau’s federal Liberal government enacted the War Measures Act in the midst of the October Crisis, which made way for the arrests of 465 people. Yet he considers the Toronto summit, during which an estimated 1,170 were arrested, a far more troublesome event in Canadian history. “If you went down there blindfolded, and somebody took the blindfold off of you, you would never assume you were in Toronto,” says Morton, who assisted with bail hearings at a special court set up during the summit. “It was like an armed camp, and the police action was carried out as if it was a military operation.”
While the former Crown attorney and Ontario Special Investigations Unit director’s Argentina reference is tongue-in-cheek, he says some police officers took the idea that Canadian laws didn’t apply in the literal sense. Defence lawyers and civil liberties groups have roundly condemned the actions of officers within the integrated security unit that oversaw the security efforts at the Toronto summit and the adjoining G8 summit in Huntsville, Ont. The Integrated Security Unit was made up of members of forces such as the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, Toronto Police Service, Ontario Provincial Police, and the Canadian Forces.
Observers have suggested the ISU overemphasized the protection of world leaders, at the expense of the Charter rights of those who chose to remain in Toronto’s downtown core — whether it was to shop for groceries or peacefully protest — during the summit. The notion that police took extraordinary, and perhaps illegal, steps was borne out by the unprecedented number of arrests, considered the largest stemming from a single event in Canadian history. With just 320 of those detained appearing before the court on formal charges, questions have been raised about the legitimacy of most of the arrests. By the end of November, 230 of those charges had disappeared, mainly following stays or withdrawals, providing further evidence of possible police misconduct.
If that’s not enough to suggest officers were instructed to operate under a different set of rules — or were grossly misinformed about their powers — there are the words of York Regional Police Sgt. Mark Charlebois. He can be seen in a YouTube video telling a man who refused to consent to a search that, “This ain’t Canada right now.” An unidentified female officer continues with, “You’re in G20 land right now.” Charlebois later asserts, “There is no civil rights here in this area.”
Of course this is just the tip of the iceberg in terms of alleged police wrongdoing during the summits. Several allegations of unlawful arrests and police brutality have come to light, and various forums are probing those claims. Questions have also been raised about the now infamous secret law brought in by the provincial cabinet using the Public Works Protection Act, which people were wrongly led to believe permitted police to randomly search anyone within five metres of a security fence. All of this is aside from controversy over a $50,000 fake lake, part of a whopping $1.3-billion total price tag for the generally fruitless meetings among world leaders.
Those involved in cleaning up the G8 and G20 mess are eager to discover all that went wrong and identify how those mistakes were made, in hopes of averting a repeat performance. But they’re finding that answers are elusive, and say the problems could end up being swept under the rug, to the detriment of future generations.
Canadian Civil Liberties Association general counsel Nathalie Des Rosiers acted as one of the organization’s 50 summit protest monitors, several of whom were themselves arrested. She recalls feeling a “sense of shame” while observing the summit action, along with a “sadness that we could not do better as a society.” She recalls the Saturday of the summit weekend when a minority of protestors employed mass vandalism and Black Bloc tactics, which seemed to prompt a more aggressive approach by police. Quiet protestors who sat down and sang O Canada at Queen’s Park were charged by police, and further mass arrests were made that evening. Police utilized the “kettling” tactic to box in protestors gathered at Queen Street and Spadina Avenue, leaving them in the pouring rain for hours.
Des Rosiers’ appraisal of the security response during the summit is simple: “The planning and the delivery of crowd control at the G20 fell short of what we would expect from a police force in Canada.” She says it’s now time to measure the accountability provisions that were created to address police malfeasance. That will be tough to do based on the multi-force presence at the event, with officers from police services across the country contributing to the security effort. “This makes the accountability exercise much more complex and much more costly and repetitive,” explains Des Rosiers.
Individual complaints have already been lodged with the RCMP and the Security Intelligence Review Committee, which handles complaints directed at members of Canada’s spy agency. The Toronto Police Services Board has hired former associate chief justice and Heenan Blaikie LLP counsel John Morden to conduct an independent civilian review of police actions during the summit. Former Ontario chief justice and Gowling Lafleur Henderson LLP counsel Roy McMurtry has been engaged by the Ontario government to review issues surrounding the secret law. The province’s Special Investigations Unit is handling several cases of alleged police brutality. The SIU was particularly busy in the months following the summit, reopening cases it had earlier dismissed after receiving additional video and photos. The latest came Jan. 27, when a case involving Joseph Thomson, who apparently suffered a fractured nose in an altercation with police, was revisited. The SIU also reopened cases involving Dorian Barton, who suffered a broken arm during the summit, and Adam Nobody, who suffered a broken nose. Toronto police Const. Babak Andalib-Goortani faces an assault with a weapon charge in relation to the Nobody incident. Barton has launched a $250,000 lawsuit. The new Office of the Independent Police Review Director is also probing police actions, while the Toronto Police Service is conducting its own internal review. In December, Ontario ombudsman André Marin released a report about Ontario Regulation 233/10 under the Public Works Act, which allowed for arbitrary search and seizure near the securtiy fence. He found the regulation was probably unconstitutional and went on to call the G20 police action “the most massive compromise of civil liberties in Canadian history.”
Des Rosiers says all of these forums’ combined efforts will fall short of what a federal-provincial public inquiry could accomplish in terms of identifying and remedying any mistakes that were made during the summits. The only way to answer many lingering questions is by compelling evidence from police, she argues. “We still don’t understand how come, with all these police officers in town, there was no attempt to catch the vandals that went about their criminal actions for quite a long time,” she says, referring to the group of Black Bloc protestors who damaged businesses and set police cars ablaze. Those vehicles burned for hours while police and firefighters failed to respond to emergency calls from citizens concerned the cars would explode.
The CCLA and others also want to find out why police tactics seemed to change so abruptly after the Black Bloc protesters went on their spree, with a far more confrontational approach setting in afterward, and why many officers went rogue and removed their name tags once that shift took place.
Many also want to know why operations at an ad hoc detention centre at 629 Eastern Ave., just outside the downtown core, seemed so disorganized. There have been accusations that police did not properly process detainees, and that access to food, lawyers, and phone calls was inadequate. “There’s a lot of questions about the competence of the police, and the way in which they undertook that task, but also there were certainly some abuses of power,” Des Rosiers asserts.
While the various reviews with narrow mandates will look at aspects of these complaints, the CCLA believes only a wide-ranging public inquiry could delve into the communication between the various police forces that contributed to the security presence. On top of that, it would likely be a lot cheaper to combine the reviews into a single overarching forum. The association has sent formal requests for that type of inquiry to Justice Minister Rob Nicholson, who directed them to Public Safety Minister Vic Toews, who has not responded. Prime Minister Stephen Harper has also been silent on a petition calling for a full public inquiry.
That has left it up to the House of Commons public safety committee to try to shed light on the federal government’s role in summit planning and execution. The committee has held hearings where it received comments both from those who felt they were aggrieved during the summit, as well as those involved in overseeing the federal government’s security efforts. The committee is now putting together a report on its findings, which Liberal MP and committee vice chairman Mark Holland expects to be released sometime this spring. “Clearly what happened was deeply disturbing,” he says. “There were very clear violations.”
Yet the Liberal critic for the public safety and national security portfolio sympathizes with police forces that were required to pull a plan together within months after the federal government decided the initial plan to hold both summits in Huntsville presented logistical issues, with the small town north of Toronto lacking adequate infrastructure to service leaders and their entourages. Holland suggests most G20 hosts have years to plan their security strategy. But for Canada’s law enforcement establishment, “It landed on their lap,” he says. He would like to know how that decision was made.
Holland would also like an explanation for the ambiguous chain of command that was set up through the Integrated Security Unit. The lack of clear decision-making powers has made it easy for authorities to pass the buck, but unlikely that piercing questions will be answered. “We still, to this day, have the federal government saying they weren’t responsible for security, and yet they were supposed to be at the top of the food chain,” he says. “They were the ones who had the Integrated Security Unit and were heading it up, and yet they’re saying they were not head of security. So when you have that lack of responsibility, it leaves the door open to a lot of problems.”
While the federal public safety committee’s findings will outline many concerns about the summit, Holland admits it will fall far short of the wide-ranging review that is truly needed after the largest mass arrest in Canadian history. He believes an additional review of the federal government’s actions surrounding the security effort is vital, although he does not believe it should be costly. It just needs the power to compel evidence. “The committee was unable to get most of those answers. Many of the witnesses who came simply refused to answer, or kept saying it was somebody else’s responsibility. Well, ultimately it was somebody’s choice, somebody’s responsibility. Somebody made these decisions, and we need to find out who and why. That’s the only way we can really assure that it doesn’t happen again.”
If those answers aren’t extracted and accountability made, a message will be sent that “you can get away with anything by blaming anyone and everyone,” he continues. “It’s a strategy that, if vindicated, is dangerous, because it essentially says, ‘This is a good way to go. Just point your finger in seven different directions, and eventually everything will go away and no one will face any consequence for what happened.’ That’s not acceptable, and it sets a dangerous precedent, and that’s why we need to get answers.”
Some lawyers have given up on the fight to establish a meaningful public review. Clayton Ruby of Toronto’s Ruby & Shiller is among those taking matters to the civil courts. One client, Natalie Gray, is suing the Toronto police based on allegations she was hit by rubber bullets. Barton is seeking a civil remedy for the claim that officers assaulted him. In a third lawsuit that was being prepared in late January, Ruby represents British satirist Charles Veitch, who is seeking redress after being charged under the secret law for refusing to identify himself to officers near the G20 security fence. “The government has structured things so that there is no effective oversight,” says Ruby, explaining why he and his clients opted to take their matters to the civil courts. “The federal government could call a commission; they won’t. The provincial government could call a Royal commission; they won’t. They’re all embarrassed by it, so what you’re left with is a patchwork of oversight bodies.”
While the civil courts have become the best forum for accountability in Ruby’s mind, he admits they are a “terrible venue” for the airing of issues that cut to the core of Canadian democracy. “These cases will be settled,” he asserts. “[The government] will pay public money to make them disappear — your money and my money. And they’ll do it two years down the road, when everyone doesn’t care quite so much. This is not a satisfactory solution. This is just using the civil law system to bury a problem.”
A pair of class actions could also prove costly to the public purse. Murray Klippenstein is spearheading a suit seeking $45 million on behalf of about 800 people who were arrested and released without charge during the summit. Toronto police and the RCMP are named as defendants. In a separate action, David Midanik is looking for $115 million from the attorney general of Canada and Toronto and Peel police services on behalf of everyone arrested during the summit.
Morton, meanwhile, is one of the many lawyers representing clients whose G20-related matters remain in the criminal courts. He currently acts for Emomotimi Azorbo, a deaf man facing charges of assaulting an officer and resisting arrest during the protests, and Joanna Adamiak, who is one of 18 people facing conspiracy charges in relation to the protests. Those charged with conspiracy have been bundled into a single prosecution, which has created significant scheduling challenges. A preliminary hearing is unlikely to get underway until September at the earliest. “They’ve created this -accused monster,” says Morton, who spent 20 years as a prosecutor. “They can make all the points they want to make by proceeding against five or six people they allege are the main people. To create this monster that’s going to be, quite frankly unmanageable, is real folly on their part.”
John Norris has taken on the defence of alleged G20 protest ringleader Alex Hundert, who is among the group facing conspiracy charges. Hundert was released on $100,000 bail after his June 2010 arrest, but was back behind bars on Sept. 17, 2010, after breaching parole conditions that banned him from participating in public demonstrations. He was released from jail on Jan. 24 after signing a plea bargain in relation to the breach, which came after he sat on a Ryerson University panel that discussed the G20 resistance movement. While Norris is unable to discuss Hundert’s case, he believes the public deserves to find out why officers seem to have been ordered to ignore Charter rights during the summit. It’s unlikely any insight on that will come out of the criminal courts, and that’s partially why he believes a public inquiry must be struck. “From the point of view of the police, they would be able to explain their rationale; that rationale could be publicly challenged, other evidence could be drawn out,” he says. “That would yield the best evidence about what happened and why, and could then provide an appropriate foundation for recommendations for the future.”
All of this isn’t to forget the disorder that ensued at special bail courts set up to handle those charged during the summit. In the days following the summit, the courtroom at 2201 Finch Ave. W. in the north end of Toronto was filled with riot police, who further clogged hallways and courtrooms filled with accused persons’ family and friends, and the defence lawyers who scrambled to find information on the individuals whose cases they’d been assigned, and their whereabouts. Defence lawyer Adam Goodman worked pro bono at the special court, and says the system ran as smoothly as could be expected for this type of unprecedented situation. He credits duty counsel, Crown lawyers, and justices of the peace for making the most of an unprecedented situation. Some courts kept running until midnight to get as many accused processed as possible.
Yet Goodman recalls things turning “noticeably chaotic” when police began releasing large groups of people, and a courtroom set up to handle large guns-and-gangs cases overflowed with accused. “A lot of people didn’t get what I would classify a meaningful first appearance,” says Goodman. “Somebody’s arrested and they don’t get a chance to call a lawyer, and they arrive to court at nine, 10 o’clock at night. They’re not really going to get an opportunity to get bail that day. That was a lot of the frustration.”
He reflects on the difficulties he and his colleagues faced at the bail courts. Lawyers simply received the name of an accused and were left to their own devices to track them down. Unfortunately, officers and court staff seemed to be as in the dark as the lawyers about the individuals’ locations. On top of that, the trickles of information that were available were often inaccurate. That made it impossible to compile bail plans in advance. “We had no way of finding these people,” says Goodman. “They certainly didn’t have full access to call us and to call counsel. So we’d just walk around the courthouse trying to find them.”
The accounts of Goodman and others at the courthouses certainly raise some issues in terms of the justice system’s preparation for potential mass arrests. Morton has criticized the Ontario Ministry of the Attorney General for failing to assign an adequate number of justices of the peace to the special courts, but says he’s simply been told no one thought so many arrests would be made.
Meanwhile, Des Rosiers and the CCLA aren’t holding their breath or stepping aside while the various reviews go about their work. The association quickly released a pair of reports in the days and months following the summits. A third, chronicling key information gleaned from a series of CCLA-hosted public hearings, is also scheduled to be released. Those reports, along with the many reviews, lawsuits, and criminal prosecutions, will gradually spit out more insight into the weekend when Canada’s largest city more closely resembled a brutal dictatorship. But for Des Rosiers, the true legacy of the event will be “whether we are able, in a democratic society, to get some accountability for what went on, or whether indeed we are unable to do so. That would be the real tragedy.”