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Former Ontario associate chief justice to lead G20 policing probe

Police move in on protesters at Queen's Park during the G20 summit in Toronto.

Roger Hallett/The Globe and Mail/Roger Hallett/The Globe and Mail

A former associate chief justice who helped shape Canada's approach to civil rights will head up an independent inquiry into the chain of command behind police operations during the G20 summit in Toronto.

John Morden, is a counsel with Toronto's Heenan Blaikie and served as counsel to the Royal Commission on Civil Rights in the 1960s, was named on Thursday to preside over the Toronto Police Services Board's G20 review.

The review will make non-binding recommendations after examining the board's role in everything from planning and commanding G20 security to "erroneously communicating to the public" that police had more powers than they actually did. Mr. Morden will examine exactly who was giving orders for what during the summit weekend, when more than 1,000 people were detained in what has been called the largest mass arrest in Canada's history. Protesters clashed with police around Toronto's downtown, buildings were vandalized and hundreds were penned in for hours by rows of riot police.

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But critics say this review - the latest of several into police conduct and responsibility during the G20 summit - has limited scope and teeth. Created by the civilian body governing Toronto police, it will have little influence over the other security bodies in charge of policing the city that weekend - the OPP and the RCMP included.

"Justice Morden is a very respected jurist, and I'm sure he will bring considerable value to that process," said Eric Gillespie, a lawyer who has launched a class-action suit that alleges the Toronto police and the RCMP breached the "fundamental civil rights" of civilians during the G20 weekend.

"At the same time, that inquiry also has a much more limited scope than the broader range of issues that have come out of the G20 process. It will be interesting to see how it integrates into the larger picture, but it clearly doesn't address all of the issues that will be raised through the class action process that has been initiated."

Ontario's independent police review director has launched an inquiry into policing conduct after being inundated with complaints; the province's Special Investigations Unit is looking into five incidents of serious injury in police custody; and the Ontario government has announced two reviews of a law amended by an order in council to give police added powers during the summit. Multiple class-action suits are ongoing.

Speaking to the police board on Thursday, Mr. Morden said he anticipates working with other inquiries "to avoid any unnecessary duplication of work."

"I look forward to the co-operation of those with information that is relevant to the issues the review will examine, and to providing my report to the board as expeditiously as possible."

He will be paid $480 an hour for his services throughout the review, and will work with Heenan Blaikie lawyer Ryan Teschner.

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"It's important to investigate and take a look at what happened during the G20 from the perspective of Toronto policing," Mr. Teschner said. "This is going to be about the policies that govern the Toronto police service."

Step one, he said, will be requesting the information needed to satisfy the 35 questions in the review's terms of reference. Mr. Morden won't have subpoena power, so he can only make requests and hope police bodies comply.

Toronto Police Chief Bill Blair said he looks forward to working with Mr. Morden, but can't guess whether he'll be able to provide all necessary documentation.

"I think the concerns of the board are concerns that need to be addressed and I think they've made a wise choice in this appointment. … I'm going to wait to see what he asks for and see what I can give to him. But, certainly, I'll do what I can within our rules and within the law to assist Justice Morden with his inquiry."

Councillor and police board member Adam Vaughan, whose Trinity-Spadina ward was at the heart of G20 mayhem, said that although the recommendations won't be binding, police will recognize public anger - and will take them into account.

"Arresting 1,000 people is a sign of something going wrong. The recommendations they make will prevent it from happening again. I don't think the police services board is going to shy away from learning from this."

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