When police cracked down on protesters at Toronto’s G20 summit, drawing accusations of brutality and undertaking the largest mass arrests in Canadian history, everyone wanted to know: Who was calling the shots on the streets that day?
A new report says it wasn’t the RCMP, but a combination of the Toronto police and the OPP, and that the various agencies policing the protests at times led to confusion.
The revelations came Monday from the Commission for Public Complaints Against the RCMP, a civilian watchdog that has spent more than a year probing the force’s actions during the summit.
The investigation found that police tactics outside the summit site were directed by Toronto police’s Major Incident Command Centre at the force’s downtown headquarters and the RCMP did not intervene to tell them what to do.
In some cases, however, front-line operations were directed by OPP commanders.
One such situation was the notorious “kettling” incident at Queen Street West and Spadina Avenue, where officers in riot gear boxed in protesters with no means of escape. An RCMP tactical unit was sent to reinforce the police cordon at the site.
The unit commander was concerned by the order to kettle protesters, because such a tactic is not part of the RCMP playbook, but deferred to the MICC. It also took nearly two hours for the Mountie commander to find the OPP officer in charge of the scene. When he eventually did, the OPP commander told him that the MICC “wanted everyone arrested.”
A spokesman for the OPP said the force had not read the report and would not comment on it.
But Abby Deshman, a lawyer with the Canadian Civil Liberties Union, said the revelations reinforced questions about why the kettling order was given.
“The fact that a seasoned police commander is asking these questions really bolsters the concerns we were hearing on the justification for these actions,” she said.
The incident also suggests there were problems with how intelligence was passed along, she said. The report found that an RCMP tactical team inadvertently arrested two plainclothes Toronto police officers in the kettle that day.
“It speaks to a very confused command environment,” she said.
For the most part, the review found the RCMP played no role in the controversial crackdown. The national police force did not take part in arrests at Queen’s Park, on the Esplanade or at a University of Toronto gymnasium, nor did they plan these incidents.
Their major task was securing the summit site and protecting VIPs.
Toronto Police Chief Bill Blair would not comment on the report directly, but confirmed his force was responsible for tactical decisions at the protests.
“I do acknowledge the operational command decisions were being made by a Toronto police superintendant who was the operational commander at the time here in Toronto,” he said.
The report made several recommendations. In future operations with other police forces, the Mounties should decide ahead of time what tactics they are willing to use, and which ones they won’t, the commission said, to avoid a repeat of the kettling incident.
“It would have been helpful had the various police services been operating by the same playbook,” said commission chairman Ian McPhail.
It also found that the officers involved in the incident did not submit detailed notes.
RCMP spokeswoman Sergeant Julie Gagnon said the force was taking steps to remedy both of these problems. In future cases where it is working alongside other police forces, it will make plans ahead of time to ensure the operational guidelines mesh. It will also formalize a note-taking process for major events, she said.
While there have been several reports in the wake of the summit, none has precisely explained how and why key policing decisions were made, largely because most of the reviews were limited to a single police force.
Many of these questions may finally be answered next month, when former justice John Morden is expected to release an independent report for the Toronto Police Services Board that will look at all aspects of policing the summit.