One weekend last June, the country watched two stunning sights in the heart of its largest city during protests against the G20 summit: In the first, a small number of demonstrators smashed shop windows, vandalized banks and set fire to police cars. In the second, police made the largest mass arrests in the country’s history, during which they were accused of roughing up protesters, throwing them in an inhumane makeshift prison and conducting numerous arbitrary searches.
A year later, investigators have methodically tracked down many of those accused of trashing the city that weekend, but holding police themselves to account for alleged wrongdoings has proven more difficult.
What’s more, numbers released Monday show that, out of more than 1,100 people arrested in connection with the G20, just 24 have pleaded guilty and 56 are still before the courts; the vast majority were either released without charge or had their charges dropped.
Meanwhile, many of the questions that emerged from that weekend remain only partly answered: Why did police seemingly do little to stop the property damage, but then round up peaceful demonstrators? Why did officers search people far from the summit? Who was calling the shots – local police in Toronto or RCMP in Barrie who were overseeing G8 security?
“The G20 was a moment of awakening in terms of new policing techniques being foisted on the legal system,” said Nathalie Des Rosiers of the Canadian Civil Liberties Association. “It’s also been a test of our accountability mechanisms, whether they work appropriately and whether they are sufficient. And they are not.”
She argues that, since numerous police forces were involved in the G20, a single body is needed to examine their conduct, and that commanders must take greater responsibility for what happened.
One person still waiting for police to be held accountable is Sherry Good, a 52-year-old office administrator. She was among a crowd of several hundred who were “kettled” – surrounded by police and not allowed to leave – for hours in the pouring rain at Queen Street West and Spadina Avenue on June 27. A year later, she is still tense and has echoes of the panic attacks that beset her after the protests.
“I’m still not comfortable walking down the street. I’m still afraid that, at any time, the police could come and take me,” she said. “When I’m in close proximity to big groups of police, my breathing still gets funny.”
Last summer, Ms. Good launched one of two class-action lawsuits against police and the government. Several other individual suits are pending, as are various reviews.
The provincial Office of the Independent Police Review Director, for instance, is investigating police planning, conditions at the temporary detention centre and the searches.
“Cooperation regarding interviews with police has generally been good,” said OIPRD spokeswoman Rosemary Parker. “Disclosure has been vast – we’ve got thousands and thousands of pages of paper and hours and hours of video.”
In public pronouncements over the past year, police have sketched out a rough narrative explaining some of their thinking: When the vandalism began, they were concerned with protecting the summit and shepherding a peaceful, labour-organized march, and could not immediately respond. Later, they decided to contain demonstrations in which they thought vandals were hiding.
“Decisions were made by our operational commanders and by our major incident commanders that it was necessary to disperse those crowds to prevent a breach of the peace and, if the crowds refused to disperse, to take persons into preventive detention,” Toronto Police Chief Bill Blair told a parliamentary hearing last fall.
The contention hasn’t sat well with civil-liberties advocates, who argue it wasn’t justifiable to undertake mass arrests in hopes of collaring a small number of vandals.
Neither has the apparent difficulty with identifying individual officers accused of brutality. After lengthy probes, the province’s Special Investigations Unit has charged two officers. On both occasions, numerous officers said they could not identify those allegedly involved, and it took videos and photos from the public to get charges laid.
In contrast, police have been successful in finding alleged vandals. A task force led by veteran homicide Detective Sergeant Gary Giroux has laid 250 charges against 48 people, from British Columbia to Montreal. He is also hoping to extradite five Americans, including two young men from the New York City area accused of each causing a half-million dollars worth of damage.
Investigators trawled through 80,000 images submitted by members of the public, along with 7,000 taken by police cameras, helicopters and officers at the scene. They used YouTube to track down videos of vandals, and matched their pictures with booking photos of people arrested for other offences during the summit.
If there is one thing the hunt for vandals shares with the search for police accountability, it is the role that ordinary members of the public are playing in coming forward to identify alleged culprits.
“People would call and say, to use one example, ‘I know that person; I went to high school with that person,’” Det. Sgt. Giroux said.
WHERE ARE THEY NOW?
THE ACCUSED VANDALS
Then: A “Black Bloc” of a few hundred people left a large, peaceful labour march to break windows, torch police vehicles and leave graffiti on bank headquarters. Later, several people not clad in black, many of them bystanders, vandalized more police cars on Queen Street.
Now: Police have charged 48 people since the summit. Many others were arrested during the summit itself.
THE ALLEGED CONSPIRATORS
Then: Starting with pre-dawn raids on June 26, 2010, police rounded up a small group of people whom they accused of plotting property damage at the G20.
Now: Several people have had conspiracy charges dropped. The 17 remaining co-accused will start preliminary hearings on Sept. 12. A full trial is likely more than a year away.
Then: 1,105 people were rounded up during the summit and 48 more were tracked down and arrested subsequently.
Now: Most people were released without charges. Of the 321 who face charges, 187 had their charges dropped, stayed or thrown out. Twenty-four pleaded guilty, 39 accepted direct accountability (such as making a charitable donation rather than face criminal sanction) and 11 signed peace bonds. Forty-seven people are still before the courts, nine are wanted on warrants and four face drug charges, being handled federally.
THE GYM ARRESTEES
Then: On the morning of June 27, roughly 90 people were arrested as they slept in a gymnasium on the University of Toronto campus. Most were Quebeckers who travelled to Toronto for the protests.
Now: All charges were dropped last fall, partly because of a lack of evidence and partly because police had not obtained a proper warrant.
Then: The Toronto Police Services Board, the Ontario Ombudsman, the House of Commons Public Safety and National Security Committee, the Office of the Independent Police Review Director and the Toronto Police Service all announced probes of policing at the summit.
Now: The Ombudsman criticized the province for quietly invoking the Public Works Protection Act, which allowed police to arrest people near the summit site; the opposition-controlled Public Safety and National Security Committee called for a public inquiry and demanded the federal government issue an apology. The other reviews have yet to be completed; the OIPRD says its report will be finished in a few months.
THE FOREST HILL GEEK
Then: One of the first people arrested ahead of the summit, Byron Sonne, was accused of posting tips online on how to breach G20 security and assembling the materials needed for a bomb.
Now: After nearly a year in prison, Mr. Sonne was released on bail last month. The 38-year-old security analyst says he was simply critiquing the security apparatus at the G20 by exposing its flaws. He faces a trial in November.
Then: The province’s Special Investigations Unit probed six cases where police were accused of seriously injuring protesters; the Office of the Independent Police Review Director received hundreds of complaints of more minor injuries and other police wrongdoing.
Now: After months-long investigations, the SIU ordered charges against two Toronto police constables, Babak Andalib-Goortani and Glenn Weddell, for roughing up protesters. The OIPRD investigated 208 cases itself and referred 76 incidents to police. The OIPRD refused to release the results of its investigations but, in at least one case, Toronto police charged one of their own following an OIPRD tip: Constable Andalib-Goortani was charged with assaulting a second person.
Then: Within weeks of the G20, two class-action suits were launched against police. The first primarily covers those detained or arrested but not charged during the summit. The second is more broad. Others have launched individual suits, alleging everything from deplorable conditions in the temporary detention centre to violations of rights during property searches.
Now: Next month, a court will hear arguments by lawyers on each class-action suit on why theirs should go ahead.