It was a defensive Chief Bill Blair who met reporters in the atrium of Toronto police headquarters on Wednesday. A scathing report on police conduct during the G20 protests in 2010 had just been released. It found that disorganized, poorly trained police had often trampled on the rights of protesters and sometimes resorted to excessive force.
Did the chief care to apologize? Would he acknowledge that police sometimes acted outside the law? Did he have any sense of regret?
No, no and no. "Generally – I think overwhelmingly – the rights of our citizens were protected that weekend," he said. Asked if he agreed with the report's finding that police had acted unlawfully on several occasions during the G20, he replied: "No. That has not been proven at all."
To the contrary, he said, the report by Independent Police Review director Gerry McNeilly finds that "the vast majority of police officers conducted themselves quite appropriately, quite professionally – and he says generally the policing was very well done."
True, and worth noting amid all the headlines that will come with this account. But it finds much else besides, little of it flattering to Chief Blair and his force.
The thrust of the report is that police overreacted to the violence that broke out on the first day of the G20, resorting to mass arrests that swept up hundreds of innocents and sent them to an overcrowded holding pen for detention.
In his 286-page "systemic review report," the most thorough yet on the G20 events, Mr. McNeilly finds that police ignored basic Charter rights when they stopped and searched many people on the streets "arbitrarily and without legal justification," often for no other reason than that they were wearing backpacks or bandanas.
He finds that police acted unlawfully and without a warrant when they rounded up 108 protesters billeted at the University of Toronto's Graduate Students' Union.
He finds it was "unreasonable, unnecessary and unlawful" to box in about 400 people at Queen and Spadina in the pouring rain on the night of Sunday, June 27 – the notorious "kettling incident."
He finds there are grounds to think that police acted unlawfully and outside the Charter when they carried out another mass arrest of 260 people outside the Novotel hotel on The Esplanade.
He finds that the makeshift detention centre on Eastern Avenue was poorly planned, designed and operated, a conclusion that will come as no news to the hundreds of protesters who spent a miserable night there.
At Queen's Park, where police moved in with riot shields, rubber bullets, muzzle blasts of tear gas and a mounted squad, the level of force was "higher than anything the general public had witnessed before in Toronto." Many people in the crowd never heard the order to disperse and, in any case, were not given the time or space to leave.
When officers on the scene at Queen and Spadina asked for a sound cannon to make their commands heard to the confused crowd, the night commander denied the request. He also said no to allowing some of the crowd an exit route from the police box. One officer was overheard in an audio recording calling the commander "maniacal." The operation was finally called off through the personal intervention of Chief Blair.
Police got little personal training for the summit, the report says. They were told to prepare for violence, not to facilitate peaceful protest.
Police planning for the G20 was "incomplete and inadequate and very general." One reason police often couldn't catch up to G20 bad guys was that the vans and buses they were travelling in got caught in gridlock – and their civilian drivers weren't allowed to run red lights. Police were so disoriented that one of them picked up a subway map to figure out how to get around.
Once things began to go wrong, no one in the police seems to have put up a hand to say: enough. The report says officers were often "blindly following orders," even when they questioned whether the orders were right. Fear and even paranoia seems to have taken hold. Police were told that G20 anarchists might be armed with super-soaker water guns to use as flame throwers.
In defence of the police, they had a tough assignment: to prepare within months for a security operation of unprecedented scale in the heart of a major city. They faced a foe, the Black Bloc, who deliberately concealed themselves in peaceful crowds, making it hard for police to separate them out.
"In hindsight," concedes Chief Blair, "things could have been done differently and therefore better." That is putting it much too mildly. It is clear from this account – as it has been since that chaotic weekend – that, in their zeal to maintain order and keep Toronto safe, police sometimes overstepped their authority and violated the rights of innocent people. It would look well on the force to acknowledge that.
Key recommendations of the report on the policing of the June 2010 G20 Summit by the Office of the Independent Police Review, released Wednesday:
- Require police to disclose evidence of officer misconduct and help investigate it.
- Provide refresher training to officers on the legalities of detaining, searching and arresting people.
- Crowd containment or “kettling” should continue only as long as absolutely necessary.
- Unlawful or excessive detention should be considered misconduct.
- Scrap the use of flex cuffs altogether or severely limit their use.
- Police should accredit media for large-scale events and respect those credentials.
- Governments and police should ensure security operations have adequate time for planning and preparation.
- The Canadian Press