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Queen and Spadina June 27 2010 - Police kettle (surround groups) of protesters and uninvolved bystanders during G20 meetings in Toronto. Many were arrested but all charges were dropped and people released. Some have sued the police. (Sabrina Diemert photo/Sabrina Diemert photo)
Queen and Spadina June 27 2010 - Police kettle (surround groups) of protesters and uninvolved bystanders during G20 meetings in Toronto. Many were arrested but all charges were dropped and people released. Some have sued the police. (Sabrina Diemert photo/Sabrina Diemert photo)

Lawyers question why Blair admitted G20 policing mistakes Add to ...

Toronto Police Chief Bill Blair's admission Thursday that he made mistakes policing the G20 summit's most controversial incident has raised questions about why he made the remarks with lawsuits pending.

"If they do a giant mea culpa, then there's less need for the court to really hammer them," said lawyer David Midanik, who on Thursday launched a $115-million class-action lawsuit related to summit policing - the second such lawsuit filed in less than a month.

The suit, which names the Toronto and Peel Regional police boards and the federal Attorney-General as defendants, represents more than 1,000 people who were detained, charged or suffered business losses during the June weekend, including people involved in the "kettling" incident Chief Blair spoke about.

Late on the final day of the summit, approximately 250 protesters and bystanders were corralled in pouring rain by riot police at the intersection of Queen Street and Spadina Avenue. This Thursday, Chief Blair told The Globe and Mail that he "probably could have and should have" ordered those people released sooner.

Toronto police spokesman Mark Pugash rejected the suggestion that Chief Blair's statement was made to undermine litigation. "To the simple question of was there some ulterior motive, what I would say is: [The Globe and Mail]asked him a question, the chief answered it honestly, and that is the beginning and the end of it," Mr. Pugash said.

He said that reading any more into Chief Blair's statements would be "dangerous."

Eric Gillespie, one of the lawyers who represents another $45-million class-action suit filed in August, raised the same concerns as Mr. Midanik. "It's not clear why this acknowledgment is being made at this time," he said, noting that an important test for approving a class-action lawsuit is the potential for "behaviour modification" in the defendant - that is, ensuring the defendant will act differently in the future.

"By acknowledging responsibility now, lawyers might suggest later that no further modification is required," Mr. Gillespie said. The suit he is involved with covers more than 800 people detained at Queen and Spadina and elsewhere over the G20 weekend and names the Toronto police board and Canada's Attorney-General as defendants.

Mr. Gillespie also said the chief didn't go far enough in his remarks. Chief Blair said Thursday that although the decision to free the detainees came later than it should have, the original decision to order the containment of the group using the so-called kettling tactic was sound.

"By not acknowledging that in many people's minds the tactic of kettling innocent people is wrong in the first place, there still appears to clearly be a role for the courts," Mr. Gillespie said.

Aaron Leaf, a freelance journalist who was trapped in the corral, was also unsatisfied by Chief Blair's statement that the order to contain the group was justified. "It was a peaceful exercise, and I can't imagine why [police]would have done that. It made no sense," Mr. Leaf said.

The Toronto Police Services Board, the civilian oversight body for the force, is conducting an inquiry into aspects of the G20 policing. When asked about Chief Blair's remarks, the board chair, Alok Mukherjee, said it would be "inappropriate to comment on an operational decision."

Mr. Mukherjee did say there were more questions about policing of the summit to be answered. "I do not believe that we yet have a full and complete understanding of the decision-making process and the governance structures that were in place," he said.

Mr. Mukherjee said he expects the person who will head the inquiry to be named on Sept. 23.

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