UPDATE: (Aug. 6) A $45 million class action lawsuit was launched today against the Toronto Police and the federal government on behalf of people who allege they were unlawfull detained during the G20 meeting.
At first it seemed likely the G20 security clampdown in Toronto — with its detention of nearly one thousand people — would be allowed to pass unchallenged. Mayor David Miller pronounced himself satisfied with the work of the police and Chief Blair declared his pride in his men. Premier Dalton McGuinty saw no reason for any inquiry into police behavior.
They were supported by the public. A poll showed 80 percent backing for the actions of the police. And why not? We’d seen TV of black-clad vandals smashing store windows and torching police cars.
Then the fog of confusion began to lift. The media, initially focused on the wave of vandalism that disrupted protest gatherings in Toronto, began to pick up on the eye-witness accounts of the “alternative media.” They came from the army of freelance writers for unofficial media sites and independent blogs. Some carried their own media badges, but to the police these meant nothing. Nor, as it turned out when the police began to arrest mainstream media reporters, did the officially accredited badges mean very much.
Bit by bit, the solid front of police approval began to crumble. The Toronto Police Services Board reversed its position and announced plans for an independent inquiry. The office of the Independent Police Review Director is looking into the complains of five journalists who alleged manhandling and false arrests.
The House of Commons Public Safety Committee called a special sitting — scheduled for this week — to look at the actions of police and how the G20’s $1 billion security tab was spent. The Special Investigations Unit, an arm’s-length police watchdog, is checking into five incidents of serious injury.
Ontario Ombudsman Andre Marin is to investigate the handling of the special amendment to the Public Works Protection Act which police used to mislead the public as to their power and authority.
It is highly unlikely any of these inquiries would be underway without the presence during the G20 of “citizen media” — ordinary people with cameras and cell phones who greatly outnumbered the mainstream media, who put themselves into the middle of the demonstrations, and who, in many cases, were beaten up and detained by police.
(One is reminded of the video taken by a “civilian” at the Vancouver Airport of the tasering of Robert Dziekenski.)
Christie Blatchford, the Globe and Mail columnist who has a reputation as a strong advocate for the police and the military, has been highly critical of these “alternative media.” She’s written:
let us not pretend that these folks are working journalists or that they are the equivalent. They aren’t, for the most part.”
But they have the right as citizens to observe life around them and in many cases, as the mainstream media soon learned, their reports were essential to an understanding of what went on along the streets of Toronto two weekends ago.
Steve Paikin of TVO was one of the first to report the behavior of police gathered outside the Novotel Hotel who surrounded a peaceable group and whose arrests included the free-lance reporter for the British newspaper The Guardian. Others witnessed the crackdown on people resting on the lawns of Queen’s Park — the so-called “Free Speech” zone. Some of these incidents were covered by “The Real News”:
It was there that police are alleged to have seized the prosthetic leg of a man on the grounds it was a dangerous weapon. He was held in a wheelchair in a cell at the now infamous Eastern Avenue detention centre for more than 24 hours.
In the end, only a few hundred of the thousand or so detained have been charged, mostly with minor crimes of disturbing the peace.
The Canadian Civil Liberties Association and Amnesty International are calling for a full-out federal inquiry. As Prime Minister Harper is the architect of the folly of putting the G20 into downtown Toronto, it is highly unlikely such a wide-ranging investigation will ever take place.
Some of the more pertinent questions that need to be answered:
- What strategy were the police following when they chose to allow vandals to roam unmolested on their downtown window-smashing forays?
- Why was a crowd of a thousand non-violent people held in police encirclement Sunday night in pouring rain?
- Why did the police stand by their claim they could arrest people within five metres of the Security fence, when they knew this was not the case?
- Why did not the Ontario government make a clear public disclosure (instead of an obscure posting on a remote web site) of their amendment to the Public Works Protection Act?
The bigger question that hangs over all this is unlikely to be answered by any of the inquiries that are about to get underway. It is this: Are we witnessing the militarization of Canadian society — the beginning of an era when profligate spending and unchallenged authority is put in the hands of a few, a society where security and order outranks freedom and democracy?
I’ve been fretting for the past couple of weeks about the Canadian media’s coverage of the G20 meeting in Toronto, and its aftermath.
I seriously question the reliability of the mainstream media’s (MM) reportage of the policy decisions from the gathering. And I’m troubled by the way the MM covered the street protests and the police behaviour on G20 weekend.
I think it’s not unreasonable to expect journalists to bring some understanding of historic context and political posturing to coverage of such events. In other words, to rev up what Ernest Hemingway called the “bullshit detector.”
I haven’t seen much evidence of that in the G20 coverage.
Most news reports have blithely hailed Prime Minister Harper for the G20’s acceptance of his edicts for ending stimulus programs and getting budgets back into balance.
This is what the National Post had to say on June 28:
The conclusion of the G20 leaders summit here has produced what experts call a “solid win” for the country, as the final communique declared a full assault on budget shortfalls and a preference for Canada-style banking rules that shielded domestic lenders from the worst of the recent financial crisis.
The continuing saga of the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) and its blabbermouth director, Richard Fadden, grows more interesting by the day.
Fadden stood his ground at a meeting of the House of Commons public safety committee. He could hardly do anything else. Yes, there are provincial cabinet ministers and municipal politicians who are under the influence of a foreign country, presumably China. He’ll tell all to the Prime Minister’s office very soon, he promised.
So here’s another “suspect” who might be worth investigating. Melissa Blake, the mayor of the Alberta oil sands town of Fort McMurray, has accepted an invitation from the U.S. government for a three-week tour of American cities as part of its “International Visitor Leadership Program.”
Mr. Fadden, you might recall, has been especially critical of municipal politicos whom he alleges accepted free trips from the governments of another country.
Should she now expect CSIS to investigate her for possibly falling under the influence of a foreign government?