OTTAWA — Canadian police used “excessive force,” ignored civil rights and made “unlawful” mass arrests in cracking down on unruly protests at a G20 summit in Toronto two years ago, a watchdog said Wednesday.
Gerry McNeilly, head of the Office of the Independent Police Review Director, in a scathing 300-page report blamed poor planning for widespread breaches of civil liberties at the back-to-back June 25-27, 2010 summits of the Group of Eight and G20 nations in the Toronto region.
Authorities had been extra vigilant ahead of summits, with some 20,000 policemen from across Canada securing summit sites in Toronto and Huntsville, north of the metropolis.
But once it began, things quickly spun out of control in the streets as leaders of the world’s top economies gathered in Toronto.
McNeilly said orders by a Toronto deputy police chief to “take back the streets” late on June 26 following a day in which police lost control and saw storefronts smashed and a police car set ablaze, aggravated the situation, leading to more than 1,100 arrests.
“What occurred over the course of the weekend resulted in the largest mass arrests in Canadian history,” McNeilly said in the report.
“These disturbances had a profound impact not only on the citizens of Toronto and Canada generally, but on public confidence in the police as well.”
The reports states, “Some police officers ignored basic rights citizens have under the Charter and overstepped their authority when they stopped and searched people arbitrarily and without legal justification.”
“Numerous police officers used excessive force when arresting individuals and seemed to send a message that violence would be met with violence,” it adds.
“The reaction created a cycle of escalating responses from both sides.”
The report also concluded that mass arrests outside a downtown hotel were “unlawful” and that a raid on a university residence in which several people were roused from their sleep at dawn and arrested at gunpoint was done without a proper warrant.
McNeilly said his office received 356 complaints in all related to policing at the G20 summit.
Civil liberties associations have also criticized authorities for alleged rights abuses, and several lawsuits alleging police brutality and rights violations are still pending.
In his report, McNeilly also blasted overcrowding, lack of food and water or access to lawyers at a temporary detention center where detainees — many of them held illegally — faced strip searches and had to use toilets in full view of others.
And he slammed police for corralling groups of people, including both protestors and passersby, for several hours in a thunderstorm, describing the tactic as “unreasonable, unnecessary and unlawful.”
McNeilly’s report does not assign specific blame for any of the wrongdoings but offers 42 recommendations to improve policing in Canada.
[Image via Andrew Archy, Creative Commons licensed]