Police chief to hold officers accountable for G20 conduct
Published Wednesday, May 16, 2012 10:44PM EDT
Toronto Police Chief Bill Blair said he will hold officers accountable for their actions during the G20 summit, should a police tribunal find any of them guilty of misconduct.
Blair's comments came after a biting critique of police behaviour during Toronto's G20 summit in 2010 was released earlier Wednesday. The report found that officers overstepped their authority with several tactics, including unlawfully detaining protesters and violating basic civil rights.
The report, issued by Ontario's police watchdog, also criticizes the level of force police used while trying to control crowds, and blasts officers for searching a number of citizens without legal justification.
"I am quite prepared to hold people accountable for misconduct, if misconduct is proven on the basis of evidence, given before the tribunal," Blair told reporters at a press conference.
Blair said he accepts the recommendations made by Office of the Independent Police Review Director head Gerry McNeilly, calling the report "some very good work" that is important for policing in Ontario.
The Office of the Independent Police Review Director (OIPRD) concluded that police had infringed on the Charter rights of many citizens before the G20 weekend was through.
Part of the report zeroes on the disorganization of a temporary police detention centre and how police "kettled," or detained, hundreds of protesters in the rain for hours.
On June 27, 2010, about 400 people were surrounded by police at the downtown Toronto intersection of Queen Street and Spadina Avenue. Barred from leaving, the individuals were held outside during a thunderstorm as officers processed arrests.
Many of the people who were "kettled" during that time were just passersby, and not affiliated with any G20 protest group.
"It was unreasonable, it was unnecessary and it was unlawful," OIPRD head Gerry McNeilly told reporters at a Wednesday news conference.
Soaring tensions between officers and demonstrators at G20 events resulted in the largest mass arrest in Canadian history, said McNeilly.
More than 1,118 people were arrested during the summit, according to Toronto police. However, most of those individuals were released without charge.
In many cases, the report found that police exacerbated already tense situations.
"Numerous police officers used excessive force when arresting individuals and seemed to send a message that violence would be met with violence," the document states.
In his defence, Blair said the report noted that the vast majority of police officers working over the weekend of the G20 did their jobs well during a challenging event where officers had limited time to prepare their strategy.
"This was unprecedented in its size, or its scope, as a security undertaking for the City of Toronto," Blair said. "Mr. McNeilly has acknowledged that many things were done very well and some things, quite frankly, we need to learn lessons from and do them better."
The report explores the most serious confrontations between officers and citizens, including a demonstration that began at Ontario's legislature on June 26 and resulted in militant protesters fanning into the downtown core and vandalizing property.
Some of the more radical protesters at Queen's Park, which was a designated protest zone that day, used "Black Bloc" tactics -- smashing car windows and storefronts before removing black disguises and vanishing into a larger crowd.
While police were responsible for addressing violence, the OIPRD review found their response to protesters at Queen's Park to be too brash.
"It is fair to say the level of force used in controlling the crowds and making arrests at Queen's Park was higher than anything the general public had witnessed before in Toronto," the report stated.
As well, the OIPRD investigation found that a temporary detention centre set up by police was poorly planned and operated.
Detainees complained of overcrowding, strip searches, lack of food or water and access to lawyers. Washroom facilities lacked privacy and individuals under the age of 18 were placed in cells with adults, said McNeilly.
The OIPRD report finished with 42 recommendations, or lessons drawn from the events of Toronto's G20 weekend, including:
- Giving police and other officials an appropriate amount of time to plan for large-scale security operations such as the summit.
- Changing the Police Services Act and police code to require officers to reveal misconduct among colleagues.
- Clear warnings should be given before police stage any mass arrests. Protesters should also be given enough time to comply.
- Police should receive refresher courses on the use of strip searches.
- Planning for any detention facilities should include guidelines on when prisoners can be fed and when physical restraints can be used.
Blair said he would take all of the recommendations seriously and that he was grateful for them.
He also shot down suggestions that he would resign in the wake of the report.
The critique comes days after a separate watchdog agency, the Commission for Public Complaints Against the RCMP, found that Mounties involved in the G20 summit acted in a "reasonable and appropriate" manner. Both reports were a response to complaints that followed the June 2010 summit.