The G20 Summit protests: One Year Later

Police arrest G20-accredited photojournalist Colin O’Connor at Queen’s Park. Photographed by independent journalist Vincenzo d'Alto, who was hit by a rubber bullet later the same day.
Monday, June 27, 2011

One year after the G20 Summit protests in Toronto, Canadians are still waiting for someone to take responsibility for the policing and governance of June 25-27, 2011. Information on what happened has been made available through numerous inquiries, public hearings and civil suits. These include two parliamentary standing committees, The Commission for Public Complaints Against the RCMP, Toronto Police Service Board’s review, and The Office of the Independent Police Review Director’s review. While all of these inquiries and reports have provided valuable insight into what happened at the G20 Summit protests, and what went wrong, they have not prompted Canadian authorities to take responsibility for the vast violations of human rights that took place.

Last week, one more review was provided when Police Chief William Blair released the Toronto Police Service After-Action Review. The objective of the Review was to take a comprehensive look at what went well and what did not with the policing of the G20 Summit. The Review begins with a detailed timeline of events, including the infamous kettling of protesters and bystanders at Queen Street West and Spadina Avenue on June 27. At 5:38pm the order was given and police formed a box around hundreds of people, some of whom were arrested while others were forced to stand for hours in the rain. It wasn’t until 9:36pm, four hours later, that the order was given to release those who had not yet been arrested.

Several journalists were among those contained by police at Queen Street West and Spadina Avenue. Over the course of the weekend, other journalists had their cameras seized, film destroyed and memory cards erased. Some were detained for up to 20 hours, being denied food, water and access to legal assistance. Another journalist was shot with a rubber bullet. While being arrested, a few journalists reported being physically assaulted and threatened with sexual assault.

The After-Action Review states that members of the media were embedded in the protests, reporting the events as they were occurring. Yet the Review makes no mention of the human rights abuses many of those journalists were subjected to. In fact, the report as a whole neglects to address the mass violations of human rights that took place over the course of the weekend. One of the Toronto Police Service’s missions for the G20 Summit was to “respect the democratic right of individuals and create the right conditions for peaceful protest; and freedoms of thought, belief, opinion, expression and peaceful assembly.” Yet Canadians were denied their right to free expression, faced arbitrary detentions and were subjected to physical and verbal abuse.

As reported in The Globe and Mail, critics have stated that the Review “fell far short of admitting responsibility for problems, glossed over allegations police had not co-operated with investigations into their conduct at the summit, and did not provide enough detail about what had been done to hold individual officers accountable.”

Take action and add your voice

In order to hold police and politicians accountable for the human rights violations against journalists and Canadian citizens, CJFE maintains its calls for a comprehensive public inquiry into the police actions at the G20 Summit. We ask that you add your voice as well - please join us in writing to Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Premier Dalton McGuinty. You can use the form letter here, or write your own letter voicing your concerns about the G20 Summit Protests. Please let us know through Facebook, Twitter or e-mail that you have called on Canadian authorities to answer for the policing and governance of the G20 Summit.

In CJFE’s Review on Free Expression 2010/2011, we wrote about the ongoing search for answers about the G20 Summit protests. Read the full article: Still Looking for Answers: Hearings and Inquiries into the G20 Summit. The article concludes that “we have a long way to go before we have a clear understanding of the chain of command governing the G20 Summit and who should be held responsible for this travesty of justice.”

You can also read our Report Card, which assesses of the important free expression issues in Canada, and how some of our major institutions have performed. The G20 Summit, security forces and the federal government received a failing grade, as free expression was a casualty of what the Ontario Ombudsman “the most massive compromise of civil liberties in Canadian history.”

You can find the entire Review here, which also explores issues such as hate speech, Wikileaks, whistleblowing and the protection of sources.

Read CJFE’s initial response to the G20 Summit protests.

Read CJFE’s second letter to the Government of Canada and Premier Dalton McGuinty’s response.

Read CJFE’s 2010 Free Expression International Review article Allegations of Police Misconduct and the Treatment of Journalists During the G20.

Watch CJFE’s interviews with journalists from the G20 Summit Protests on our YouTube Channel.