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Let's not repeat G20 at Occupy protest, open letter to police says

Toronto Police Chief Bill Blair reacts after speaking during a press conference about the death of police Sgt. Ryan Russell in Toronto on Wednesday, January 12, 2011.


City police at this weekend's Occupy Toronto protests should take steps to avoid a repeat of the mass arrests and kettling that occurred during last year's G20 summit, a local blogger says.

Toronto activists say they will gather in front of the Toronto Stock Exchange at the corner of King and York Streets on Oct. 15 to protest the gap between the wealthiest one per cent of people and the rest of the world. The demonstration is one of hundreds planned in cities around the world and will mimic the Occupy Wall Street protest, which began three weeks ago.

In an open letter addressed to police chief Bill Blair and the Toronto police service, Justin Beach said the public will be watching police closely during the Occupy protest and will hold them accountable for any actions that undermine protesters' rights.

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"Neither the people of Toronto, nor I'm sure, its police force want to see a repeat of the G20 weekend," Mr. Beach wrote, adding "all officers should have their badges visible at all times," in a reference to some of the G20 cases in which citizens launched complaints against officers who had covered their badge numbers and were therefore difficult or impossible to identify.

The freelance writer and web developer said he was not involved in the G20 protests and is not an organizer with the Occupy Toronto movement. He said he wrote the letter because he is concerned by the large number of protesters who came forward with claims they were mistreated by police during the G20.

"This is an attempt to get other people to communicate with police, and let [police]know people are aware of what happened previously at the G20 and other Occupy protests," Mr. Beach said. "Eyes are on them this time, people are watching, and we don't want to see a repeat of what happened in 2010."

Mark Pugash, a spokesman for Toronto police, declined to comment on how police will handle the Occupy Toronto protest.

"We're not going to go into detail about the event, other than to say that we will put together a plan that's aimed at protecting public safety and facilitating peaceful protest," Mr. Pugash said, adding police have a variety of contingency plans available.

He pointed to the 2009 Tamil protests, during which thousands of protesters blocked the Gardiner Expressway, as an example of police striking a careful balance between allowing peaceful protest and maintaining order.

"We have a consistent record of facilitating lawful protest and we would certainly like to do that again," Mr. Pugash said.

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One organizer involved in the Occupy Toronto movement said he met with police at 52 Division last week to discuss the protest with them. When he told an Occupy Toronto planning meeting of nearly 300 people, some argued against communication with police. People at the meeting on Friday agreed to cut off conversations with police until they could make a decision as a group.

Mr. Beach said the Occupy Toronto protests could be an opportunity for police to regain the trust he believes was lost during the G20. "Perhaps, if the Occupy Toronto actions go well, the rift between Toronto and its police that opened as a result of the 2010 G20 meeting can begin to heal," he wrote.

The letter is being circulated on Twitter and had garnered nearly 200 signatures by early Tuesday afternoon.

Last week, U.S. unions joined the Occupy Wall Street movement, helping to bolster protester numbers and visibility. While Canada's unions say they support the cause, they are so far steering clear of any formal involvement in the protests.

The Canadian Labour Congress says it's fighting the same problems the protesters are, while the Ontario Federation of Labour says it has met with protesters and offered some small-scale logistical support. OFL president Sid Ryan said his organization wants to give activists space to get the movement off the ground before getting more involved.

A representative from the Ontario Public Service Employees Union said the organization also has no immediate plans to participate. "We have no official capacity on this one, so we're going to watch and see what happens on Saturday," said Laurie Miller.

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With a file from the Canadian Press

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