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CHRISTIE BLATCHFORD

Why I’m on the fence over G20 violence Add to ...

I got a note from a reader on Tuesday that in my view nicely sums up the state of our shrill, blood-in-the-water, mid-WikiLeaks world.

Entitled “Blair disgraceful,” the fellow was responding to my column in that day’s paper about Toronto Police Chief Bill Blair, who last week put his foot in the messy aftermath of the G20 debacle and made it even worse. I’d said as much, but my reader was disappointed I had not gone for the chief’s throat.

“You, just like Blair,” he wrote, “are condoning the police brutality by not taking a strong unequivocal stand against it.”

I wrote back, trying to further explain my position – these are the “conversations,” as we at The Globe like to call them, that can eat up hours of your life before the sun is even properly over the horizon – and my reader quickly replied.

“I think you would be much better served to get down off the fence,” he snapped, “and make some accusations.”

I don’t intend to do that, but it doesn’t matter: Everyone else is, largely on the strength of two videos, one posted on YouTube, the other just released to a Toronto newspaper.

Not counting the Toronto police professional standards investigation (the one that has led to almost 100 officers being identified as not wearing their badges) and the force’s own after-action review, no fewer than six separate reviews/probes/hearings are going on or just completed into various aspects of how the G20 was policed.

The finished probe was done by Ontario Ombudsman André Marin, who on Tuesday reported on his narrow slice of things, the so-called five-metre rule that Queen’s Park quietly passed before the G20 and that was widely misunderstood, including by the police lawyers who briefed Chief Blair.

(I cannot resist noting that for all the thundering denunciations in Mr. Marin’s report, the fact remains that there are three times as many reviews and probes into G20 policing than there were persons ever arrested under the authority of the five-metre rule – that is, all of two, as the Ombudsman himself acknowledges in the report. Except for those charged with criminal offences, the overwhelming majority of those detained in the country’s biggest mass arrest were in fact held under the breach of peace arrest authority, a power I dislike and which I believe lends itself easily to misuse and overuse.)

Still under way are hearings by the parliamentary public safety committee in Ottawa, which periodically takes testimony from witnesses; the probe by the province’s Special Investigations Unit into one particularly vexatious allegation of police assault, that being the case involving the preciously named Adam Nobody; the review being conducted by retired appeal court Judge John Morden, who was appointed by the Toronto police board to probe the conduct of Toronto officers; the investigation by Gerry McNeilly, the province’s Office of Independent Police Review Director, who at last count was examining almost 300 complaints lodged against all Ontario officers, and the review of retired Ontario chief justice Roy McMurtry, who was appointed by the province to examine the very same five-metre rule Mr. Marin just reported on.

When Chief Blair and Detective-Sergeant Gary Giroux, the head of the G20 investigative team (and a very fine officer, I should say), appeared before the parliamentary committee last month, they had some telling numbers at their fingertips.

Thanks in part to the unprecedented co-operation they received from the public, many of whom were stunned by the violence they saw in their city on that Saturday (not Friday, as I moronically wrote earlier this week; thanks to the counsel for the Canadian Civil Liberties Association for pointing that out), the police have 40,000 still photos and 500 videotapes to go over, as well as 22,000 hours of closed-circuit camera footage.

The violence of that Saturday, Det.-Sgt. Giroux and Chief Blair testified, added up to $2-million in damages, including window-smashing, looting, and torching of police cars. As well, of course, the “black bloc” charmers – who masked and demasked using the cover of the larger crowds in which they hid – or others also threw sacks of urine and feces at the police.

It seems reasonable to me to wait until the remainder of the reviews/probes have been completed, and to see how Chief Blair handles those officers who are charged, either with insubordination or discreditable conduct for their deliberate flouting of the force’s rule that they must wear identification badges, before launching accusations.

I know 40,000 pictures, 22,000 hours of tape and 500 videos are no match for one posted on YouTube or sent to a newspaper, but I am content to remain on the fence.

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