Five years after the mass arrests at Toronto’s G20 summit, a senior police officer has been found guilty of misconduct in ordering hundreds of those arrests.
On Tuesday, a Toronto Police disciplinary hearing found Superintendent Mark Fenton – who was in charge during two notorious “kettling” incidents during the chaotic G20 weekend – guilty of two charges of unlawful arrest and one charge of discreditable conduct. He was found not guilty of one charge each of discreditable conduct and unlawful exercise of authority.
Supt. Fenton is the most senior officer convicted thus far in relation to the G20 under the provincial police act. The decision, to many, closes the chapter at last after an event that represented the largest mass arrest in the country’s peace-time history, and left a stain on the reputation of Canada’s largest city around the world.
In his ruling, John Hamilton, a retired judge who presided over the proceedings, acknowledged the “unprecedented” conditions in which police officers had to work that June, 2010, weekend, including rioting and an estimated $2-million in damage to local businesses and storefronts by a small group of vandals.
“The public service officers on the ground during the G20 were caught flat-footed. They were not able to maintain order in areas of the downtown core of Toronto. This was a situation that Supt. Fenton inherited,” he said.
But in ordering officers to box in and conduct mass arrests in two separate incidents – in front of the Novotel Hotel on The Esplanade on June 26, and again the next afternoon at the busy intersection of Queen Street and Spadina Road, Mr. Hamilton found that Supt. Fenton’s “carte blanche” decision left officers with no choice but to arrest scores of innocent bystanders and peaceful protesters.
“This decision to order mass arrest demonstrated a lack of understanding of the right to public protest,” he said.
Further, he said, Supt. Fenton’s actions in ordering hundreds of detainees to remain outside at Queen and Spadina for hours during a torrential downpour was “likely to bring discredit to the reputation of the Toronto Police Service.”
More than 1,100 people were arrested during that weekend, and most were released without charges. A report from Ontario’s independent police watchdog later blasted police for their actions during the G20 summit, saying some officers violated civil rights and detained people illegally.
Supt. Fenton’s sentencing hearing will begin in December, and the penalties range from reprimand to dismissal. If Supt. Fenton decides to retire before then – as another officer charged with G20 misconduct, Inspector Gary Meissner, did last year – he can avoid such penalties. Supt. Fenton, who is in his late 50s, has been with the Toronto Police Service for just short of 27 years.
In a statement Tuesday, Supt. Fenton’s lawyer, Peter Brauti, said he was disappointed with the result, and reiterated the difficulty of the job his client faced during the “unprecedented violence and property damage” of the G20. “He had to make quick decisions and judgment calls to protect the city,” Mr. Brauti said.
He added that his client “deeply regrets” the arrest and detention in the rain of innocent bystanders. “He would like to personally apologize to all those innocent parties that were negatively affected.”
Toronto Police spokesman Mark Pugash, meanwhile, said that because the case is still ongoing, “it would be extremely inappropriate for me to comment.”
The complainants, who include a number of those who were arrested and the Canadian Civil Liberties Association, said they were happy with the decision, but questioned why the process took so long. They also questioned why even more senior officers haven’t been charged.
“Supt. Fenton obviously has been held to account for what he did, but there are other people higher than Supt. Fenton who should be held to account,” said lawyer Paul Cavalluzzo, who represents a number of the complainants.
He also questioned why then-chief Bill Blair wasn’t called to testify – a decision made by Judge Hamilton because, under the Police Services Act, the chief effectively controlled the tribunal.
“The fact is, this whole process should be changed,” Mr. Cavalluzzo said.
Another lawyer for the complainants, Adrienne Lei, called the events of the 2010 G20 weekend a “blight” in Toronto’s history. “We believe that today’s decision is an important recognition that the police disgraced themselves at the G20,” she said.
Of the 32 cases of officers charged with G20 incidents, all but one have now concluded.Report Typo/Error