Police in Toronto Criticized for Treatment of Protesters, Many Peaceful
By IAN AUSTEN
Published: June 27, 2010
TORONTO — An escalation of aggressive police tactics toward even apparently peaceful protests at the Group of 20 summit meeting led to calls for a review of security activities.
Warren Toda/European Pressphoto Agency
After allowing a small group of people to burn police cars and smash windows unimpeded on Saturday afternoon, many of the 20,000 police officers deployed in Toronto changed tactics that evening and during the last day of the gathering.
There was a notable increase in both the numbers of police officers who surrounded demonstrations as well as more use of tear gas and rubber or plastic bullets. At the same time, there was a visible drop in the number of demonstrators in the city streets.
As a result, the violence by some demonstrators that marred the opening of the Group of 20 meeting did not reappear on Sunday, and more than 600 people were arrested Saturday and Sunday.
“Civil liberties are in rough shape today,” said Nathalie Des Rosiers, the general counsel of the Canadian Civil Liberties Association, which had two of its observers arrested and detained. “We will have to have some accountability for what is going on.”
In a statement, the Canadian branch of Amnesty International called on governments to review the security measures made for the meeting, including a temporary suspension of various civil liberties in the portion of this city’s downtown near the meeting site.
“The amount of money, reported to be in excess of $1 billion, that has been spent on security measures in Toronto over the past several days has been unprecedented,” the rights group said. “Yet on one hand extensive acts of vandalism and other violence were carried out and on the other hand thousands of individuals felt nervous and uneasy about exercising their right to engage in peaceful protest.”
The violence was not exceptional compared with problems at previous international meetings, like the World Trade Organization’s gathering in Seattle in 1999. Toronto’s shopping district sustained the greatest damage but quickly became something of a tourist attraction.
But it was nevertheless extraordinary for Toronto, a city with little history of violent protests. David Miller, the city’s mayor, was among the many who swiftly condemned it. “Does today send signals about Toronto that I wish weren’t sent?” he said on Saturday evening. “Absolutely.”
Wesley K. Wark, a professor at the University of Toronto who specializes in intelligence and national security, was critical of the actions of the police. He said Toronto’s experience should be a warning against holding future meetings in large urban centers.
“Whatever good comes out of the G-8/G-20 will be forever overshadowed by the violence,” he said.
William Blair, the city’s police chief, did not respond directly to the widespread criticism over the lack of police response during the period of violence. But at a news conference, he suggested that officers were deliberately held back.
The protesters, the overwhelming majority of whom were peaceful, promoted a variety of causes. Many were challenging the legitimacy of the Group of 20 and proposing that governments work through the United Nations. Others championed specific issues, particularly in relation to human rights and the environment.
As the police escalated their tactics, reporters were often kept at bay. Steve Paikin, a prominent Toronto journalist, said that he was escorted away by two police officers who saw his media credentials just before they moved to arrest a large number of demonstrators who were protesting the city’s temporary restrictions on civil liberties.
Mr. Paikin said he saw another journalist, Jesse Rosenfeld, a contributor to Web site of The Guardian, the British newspaper, being held by two police officers while a third punched the reporter in the stomach. After Mr. Rosenfeld fell to the ground, the third officer jabbed an elbow into his back, Mr. Paikin said. Mr. Rosenfeld was released later on Sunday, his family said.The heavily protected meeting area in the city’s downtown core attracted relatively few protesters on Sunday. The largest crowds gathered outside a film studio being used a base for security operations as well as a temporary jail where several people said that they were held in what they described as large cages.
The police conducted several raids on Sunday, arresting about 70 people at the University of Toronto in the morning and 80 people at a legal services clinic.
To avoid breaking Canadian laws about detention, five special courtrooms in suburban Toronto began processing arrested protesters on Sunday afternoon.