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Ontario watchdog launching new review of police action during G20 summit

A protester is arrested by police following a protest in Toronto on June 21, 2010.

Kevin Van Paassen/Kevin Van Paassen/The Globe and Mail

After receiving close to 300 G20 complaints - and counting - Ontario's newly minted police watchdog is stepping into the policing-inquiry fray.

The Ontario Independent Police Review Director, created last fall to provide civilian oversight into police conduct, announced Thursday afternoon it is launching a systemic review of police conduct during the G20 summit in Toronto.

More than 1,000 people were arrested over a three-day period as protesters clashed with police across the downtown area. More than 700 were charged with nothing more than breach of peace, then released; more than 100 were never charged.

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Independent police review director Gerry McNeilly says he's received more than 275 individual complaints about police conduct during that weekend, with more popping up every day.

And they're startlingly similar.

Most deal with four areas: Queen and Spadina, where police penned in hundreds of protesters, journalists and passersby for hours in the pouring rain before arresting many of them; the Esplanade, where police hemmed people in outside the Novotel hotel, followed by mass arrests; outside the Eastern Avenue film studio-turned-detention centre, where police arrested people holding vigils or protests in solidarity with those being held inside; and the way police searched protesters and passersby.

The office will still investigate each complaint on its own. But the deluge of similar complaints left Mr. McNeilly's office with little choice but to pursue a more thorough investigation into police conduct.

"My legislation provides me with the ability to do a review of a systemic nature when there's a pattern with regard to complaints from the public. This presents that pattern," he said in an interview. "It's necessary to do this investigation to ensure we have effective policing in this province."

Mr. McNeilly said it's "premature" to discuss the inquiry's timeline or procedure, but said he has subpoena power and hopes his recommendations, once the report is completed, will be taken seriously.

This is his office's first inquiry since its creation in October.

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"It is exciting, yes," he said. "A bit daunting."

It will also be a litmus test of the new office's effectiveness, said lawyer Julian Falconer, who is representing several people who've made complaints to the OIPRD over the past several weeks.

"This is most certainly an important test of both the statutory framework and the resolve of this independent director to fulfill his mandate. … And everyone is watching."

The announcement marks the latest review into police conduct and security protocol leading up to and during the G20. Toronto's Police Services Board spent Thursday afternoon listening to public submissions relating to the independent review the board is pursuing to investigate governance and oversight issues relating to the G20.

Many people, including police board chair Alok Mukherjee, have said it's unclear in many instances during that time what the chain of command was and who was making decisions among the multiple police forces working together on G20 security.

But Mr. Falconer said this inquiry renders other similar reviews - including one by Toronto's Police Services Board, which was formalized Thursday with the approval of lawyer Douglas Hunt as the person settings its terms of reference - redundant.

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"I don't see how the exercise is furthered through a multiplicity of proceedings. What a colossal waste of taxpayers money."

Councillor Adam Vaughan, a police board member whose downtown ward was the epicentre of much of the summit weekend's mayhem, said he welcomes the provincial watchdog's review but thinks it will dovetail with the police board's.

"We're reviewing Toronto police policy: What happens in Toronto when other jurisdictions move into this city? … If best practices weren't followed, how do we make sure that happens in the future?"

Toronto police chief Bill Blair, who came out swinging in support of Toronto police immediately after the summit weekend, told the police board he welcomes the inquiry "so we can actually have an investigation, rather than people making assumptions."

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