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July 14, 2010

Harper and McGuinty police state

Scott Stockdale

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"I left my bat and brick at home and brought my voice. Now you're really going to get it," read one of the signs at the march protesting police conduct at the G20, Saturday afternoon.

And this message proved to be prescient, as civil liberty, union, student and poverty activists, along with some other concerned Canadians,  at Queen's Park, chanted,  “Long live civil liberties,”  while demanding a public inquiry into police conduct at the G20.

Before marching through downtown Toronto to the  Metro Convention Centre, the crowd was inspired by a series of firebrand speakers including , Judy Rebick, CAW- Sam Gindin chair of the Social Justice and Democracy program, at Ryerson University, and Sid Ryan, president of the Ontario Federation of Labour (OFL).

Ms. Rebick said demands for a public inquiry are growing. “A few weeks ago, we demanded the release of political prisoners and a public inquiry. Two weeks ago, only the Canadian Civil Liberties Association (CCLA) was calling for a public inquiry, now many organizations are demanding one.”

Indeed, the Council of Canadians, Canadian Union of Public Employees Ontario, the Canadian Arab Federation, the Canadian Federation of Students and the Public Service Alliance of Canada are among the 15 organizations who've endorsed the call for a public inquiry.

In a rousing speech delivered with heart-felt emotion, OFL president Sid Ryan said the erosion of our civil liberties is an incremental process that leads to dire consequences.

“You think it can't happen here? I've seen civil rights workers attacked in Northern Ireland. First they attacked with water cannons, sound cannons and rubber bullets and then live ammunition. In February 1972, 14 civil rights workers were killed during a peaceful march in Northern Ireland. In 1919 they shot trade unionists in the streets of Winnipeg. Recently they threatened Asbestos workers in Quebec. They told them that if they didn't get off the street, they were going to kill them.”

He added that the process starts with something small and escalates. “First they suspend your civil rights for a weekend, then a week. Then they demonize unions, gays and poverty activists, throw in Islamophobia, and before you know it your civil rights have been revoked.”

Police over-reaction and under-reaction to G20 protests were a common theme of the marchers. Charles-Antoine Rouyer, a freelance reporter and broadcaster for a variety of international media outlets, said he lives at Queen and Spadina, where he saw some disturbing things, during the G20 weekend.

“There were two police cars on the road (Queen Street) on Saturday (June 26). At about 3 p. m., they burned one of them. But why did they leave the second car on the road after securing the area? It was burned at 6 o'clock. But I saw two busloads of police – they were parked on Beverley Street – leave between 4 and five.”

Another marcher, Gail Turner, chair of one of three KAIROS community organizations in Toronto, said her organization has heard that police were ordered not to engage on Saturday, along Queen Street. When asked if she had any proof of this, she replied: “No, that's why we need a public inquiry, to find out who gave the orders in terms of not protecting Queen and Yonge Streets from the Black Bloc and rounding up peaceful protesters.”

Meanwhile, as the marchers made their way from Queen's Park, along College Avenue and down Queen Street, a group of police officers on bicycles blocked intersections, that lead away from the designated route, and escorted the crowd to the Metro Convention Centre. This time they had no riot gear, or visible signs of water cannons, sound cannons, tear gas canisters or rubber bullets.

Protesters called for Prime Minister Harper and Premier Dalton McGuinty, along with OPP and Toronto police chiefs to be held accountable for police actions during the G20.

Many asked why government officials could spend $1.2 billion on security for the G20, but they're offering no money for a public inquiry. Mr. Harper and Mr. McGuinty have ruled out a public inquiry.

Earlier this week, the Toronto Police Services Board announced it would conduct a civilian review of the police response to the G20. Police arrested more than 1,000 people during the G20 – the largest mass arrest in peacetime, in Canadian history.

Meanwhile, Ontario Ombudsman Andre Martin is investigating the Ontario government for invoking the 1939 Public Works Protection Act, which seemed to give police the power to detain and arrest anyone within five metres of the nearly 10 kilometres of security zone fence.

Mr. Martin said he's received 60 complaints about police conduct during the G20, including a detailed letter signed by 129 York University professors, expressing alarm at the government's actions.

However, many of the protesters at Saturday's march aren't satisfied with having these investigations. They're demanding an independent inquiry, free of Toronto Police officials and government officials at all levels.

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