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Officer behind G20 mass arrests held to account, but where was Bill Blair?

Toronto police surround and detain protesters and uninvolved bystanders in the downtown area during the G20 protests of 2010.

Sabrina Diemert

Justice delayed is better than no justice at all. But five years after Toronto's police force shamefully violated the rights of peaceful protesters and uninvolved bystanders during the much-lamented G20 summit, there is little satisfaction in knowing that a solitary senior officer has finally been found guilty of charges at a police disciplinary tribunal.

Supt. Mark Fenton ordered unlawful mass arrests in two incidents that still resonate as a disgraceful abuses of power – in one case blockading hundreds of citizens at a downtown intersection and forcing them to withstand a torrential downpour without a shred of evidence that they were a threat to public safety.

This pointless demonstration of police control, occurring as the summit ended, was in sharp contrast to the force's utter failure to contain the limited outbreaks of orchestrated violence earlier in the summit.

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Supt. Fenton was unable or unwilling to distinguish between window-breaking vandals, chanting demonstrators and random passers-by – in his mind they all deserved to be treated with official contempt. Retired judge John Hamilton, who presided over the disciplinary hearing, rightly called him out for his abuse of authority.

"The decision to order mass arrests demonstrated a lack of understanding of the right to protest," Mr. Hamilton stated. "His use of power was not rationally connected to the purported risks to be managed."

Supt. Fenton, who supervised the G20 major-incident command centre, said he was following the orders of his superiors "to take back the streets." But Mr. Hamilton decided not to hear testimony from Bill Blair, Toronto's police chief during the G20 and now a federal Liberal candidate, for technical reasons related to the former chief's role in the running of the tribunal.

Supt. Fenton, who supervised the G20 major-incident command centre, said he was following the orders of his superiors "to take back the streets." But Mr. Hamilton decided not to hear testimony from Bill Blair, Toronto's police chief during the G20 and now a federal Liberal candidate, for technical reasons related to the former chief's role in the running of the tribunal.

Mr. Blair has never adequately accounted for the misbehaviours of his force during the G20. Ontario Ombudsman André Marin called it "the most massive compromise of civil liberties in Canadian history." It was a very bad day for the Toronto Police Service. There was a failure of leadership at the highest level. Whether he lost control of his officers or failed to properly oversee their poor decisions, Mr. Blair needs to revisit the lost weekend of 2010 and explain his force's performance. An election campaign is as good a place as any to demand answers.

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