Police actions questioned following G20 weekend
CTV.ca News Staff
Published Monday, June 28, 2010 10:09PM EDT
Last Updated Saturday, May 19, 2012 2:04AM EDT
As Toronto cleans up after a weekend of G20-related violence, questions are being raised about the actions of police.
On Saturday, the Integrated Security Unit was criticized for allowing the "Black Bloc" anarchists to run amok on Queen West and Yonge St, destroying property and torching police cars.
But on Sunday, police cracked down hard on protesters, including what some have described as lawful protests.
A community organizer named Ro Velasquez told CTV.ca that she was arrested with a group of about 30 people who were holding a peaceful vigil overnight Saturday near a temporary jail where hundreds of protestors were being held.
She was handcuffed for the duration of her 22-hour detention in a cage-like cell with 18 other women, she said, and had medication confiscated that she is required to take every four hours.
Velasquez also said her cell was guarded by a male officer, making it difficult to use the open washroom with privacy.
"So many people were arrested that had nothing to do with the protests," she added.
One video on YouTube shows police, dressed in riot gear, charging a group of protesters who were singing "O Canada" and were seemingly non-threatening.
Jason MacDonald submitted a video to MyNews.CTV.ca, in which he alleges he was hit by a riot shield in the face, cutting his forehead. The video shows blood streaming down the left side of his face from a cut above his eye.
Minutes later he is tackled to the ground and arrested.
The video was taken at the standoff at the Queen and Spadina intersection, which has drawn intense criticism for cordoning off both protesters and anyone else caught in the crossfire.
Mayor David Miller has defended the actions of police, saying they had an extraordinarily difficult task.
"I think compared to similar events around the world, our police did a remarkably good job and people should be starting from that perspective," he told Canada AM Monday morning.
Later, in a news conference the mayor said he regretted that some innocent people "got caught up" in the arrests and blamed the arrests on police having to deal with "Black Bloc" tactics.
Miller said that there is civilian oversight of the police, and there is a proper channel for complaints.
Dorian Barton, who says he went to the Ontario legislature Saturday out of curiosity, suffered a broken arm and a black eye when police hauled him into custody.
"They hit me with the riot shield, slammed me to the ground, stepped over me and they started dragging me and they were hitting me," Barton told CTV News.
Toronto police spokesperson Tim Burrows told CTV News Channel that the police will review their actions and will be even harder on themselves than the public or media.
"The biggest lesson is still to come . . . we don't want blind criticism or deaf praise, we need to learn from and be constructive about what happened," he said. "In the end the greatest criticism we will have, is from ourselves."
Late Monday afternoon, about 1,000 people gathered outside Toronto Police headquarters on College St. to protest what they said was excessive use of force, as well as mistreatment of the more than 900 people who were detained.
The crowd chanted "shame" as police as officers surrounded them. The peaceful demonstration closed College St. between Yonge and Bay Streets. One man was arrested nearby before the demonstration began.
The crowd then peacefully marched to Queen's Park, chanting "justice now" as they walked along University Avenue, Queen Street West, in front of City Hall and back up University Ave. again. One placard read: "I have the right to peaceful assembly."
Swift police action
Police appeared to lower their tolerance to protests Sunday after watching four of their squad cars burn Saturday.
At one point Sunday, police and protesters were engaged in a tense and bizarre four-hour standoff at a busy intersection in the city's core, when a large contingent of police boxed in a group of about 200 people in heavy rain.
Police moved in and picked out certain protesters and arrested them. Then, just before 9:45 p.m. local time, police let the remaining crowd go free.
Talking to reporters late Sunday night, Toronto Police Staff Superintendent Jeff McGuire was pressed to explain why police had barricaded people for so long in the rain. McGuire responded: "We're not perfect in everything we do, but our interest was in the safety of the citizens of Toronto."
Earlier Sunday, there was a tense standoff at a temporary detention centre where hundreds of people arrested during the protests were held.
A riot squad used rubber bullets and blank rifle shots to drive back about 100 demonstrators at the seemingly peaceful sit-in outside the detention centre. Police then apprehended an alleged member of an anarchist protest group.
Eventually, police made a deal with the crowd, telling them they would release some of those arrested if the crowd moved off a busy street. The deal appeared to work and the crowd stepped back.
Police also raided a building on the University of Toronto campus Sunday and arrested at least 70 people -- not believed to be students. A spokesperson for the Integrated Security Unit said officers found a cache of "street-type weaponry" such as bricks and fuels.
Journalists among arrested
There are also questions being raised about the number of journalists who were arrested while covering the G20 protests. At least one journalist is reported to have been struck by police during his arrest.
Jesse Rosenfeld, a Canadian activist freelance journalist, was on assignment for The Guardian when he was arrested Saturday night.
Steve Paikin, host of the Agenda on TVO, witnessed the arrest and reported that Rosenfeld was punched in the stomach and then elbowed in the back when he was doubled over.
Two Reuters photographers were arrested Sunday night while covering a protest near Queen West and Spadina, despite wearing prominent media badges.
They were released without charges.
Two National Post photographers, Brett Gundlock and Colin O'Connor, were arrested Saturday while attempting to photograph police clashing with protesters.
They spent about 24 hours in custody and were both charged with obstruct peace officer and unlawful assembly.
A CTV producer was also arrested and released without charge on the weekend.
Toronto Police Chief Bill Blair told CTV News Channel that reporters would be arrested if they did not disperse with the protesters they were covering.
"We asked the innocent to leave three times and they chose not, and if a tourist, or even a reporter, chooses to remain in that crowd . . . then they had to deal with the consequences of being detained," he said.