Introduction Edit

In 2010, the G-20 summit was held in Toronto, Ontario at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre, from June 26-27. It was the fourth meeting of the G-20 heads of government. The protests began a week ahead of the summit. At first, they were peaceful demonstrations for causes such as world hunger, anti-capitalism, and poverty, but protests soon turned violent. A group of protesters used black bloc tactics, vandalizing many downtown Toronto businesses. Over twenty-thousand police, military, and security personnel were involved in controlling the situation. Mass arrests were made, with the total number of arrests being over one thousand. Following the summit, Toronto Police were heavily criticized for brutality and alleged failure to follow policy and procedural law during the arrests.

Preparation for the SummitEdit

Harper initially proposed to hold the summit in Huntsville, Ontario, where the 36th G8 summit was scheduled immediately prior. Organizers later deemed the town insufficient to provide hospitality for the large number of G-20 delegates and journalists, favouring Toronto as the host location

The initial idea for the G20 Summit to be hosted in the city of Toronto, Ontario, was that of Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper.[1] By this time, in 2010, the G-20 summit process was two years old.[2]

"Fortress Toronto" was a plan that had been in place for months. The preconceived image of Toronto by security was that it would resemble an urban combat zone. Razor sharp fences would line the streets, and helicopters would monitor above.[3]

Protesters, armed with at least sticks, were expected.[3] The U.S. State Department advised citizens to leave Toronto and go somewhere else to avoid violence.[1]

Preparation was accompanied by massive security investments on the part of ISU (Integrated Security Unit), led by RCMP, and also involved OPP, Toronto Police Service, and Canadian Services.[4] The cost to the city for the security alone was $1 billion.[1] Security officials promised to communicate details on security to the people as soon as possible.[1] Unfortunately, this never happened.

Sometime prior to the summit, Chief of Police William Blair asked the government of Ontario to "clarify" what the police powers would be regarding the situation. (unwritten) A regulation designating an area within the G20 perimeter of the fence as a ‘public work’ pursuant to the Public Works Protection Act — legislation first enacted during the Second World War in 1939 — was passed by the Ontario cabinet on June 2. It was published on e-Laws on June 16 without any public announcement. On Thursday, June 24, a citizen was arrested in downtown Toronto pursuant to the Public Works Protection Act, eight days after the regulation came into effect. Countless other people were searched and asked for their identification while they were circulating outside of the perimeter of the fence and prior to leaders arriving in Toronto. Not knowing that the Public Works Protection Act required identification, many disputed the authority of police officers to stop them for no reason and ask for identification: police officers claimed authority under the Public Works Protection Act. In CCLA’s view, Ontarians are entitled to have clear notice when police powers are expanded and should have been consulted on the appropriateness of such expansion.

Protests and ArrestsEdit

(unwritten) On Saturday afternoon, during the largest march of over 25,000 people, a group of protesters left the protest and proceeded in the opposite direction to inflict property damage: store windows were smashed and police cars were torched. For some reason, no police force came to stop the vandalism which continued on Queen, Yonge and College streets. From that point on, our monitors observed a much more severe degree of Charter violations: at around 5 pm, police dispersed a crowd sitting at the designated ‘free speech zone’ (Queen’s Park) using rubber bullets and tear gas and people were grabbed from the crowd. Several people were injured, among them, a disabled man with an artificial leg who was waiting for his daughter. Later that night, peaceful protests were again violently dispersed, and there were two instances of mass arrests where people were boxed in by police and unable to leave. Two CCLA monitors were arrested on Saturday night. CCLA was unable to contact them for more then 16 hours. They witnessed the disorganization of the Detention Centre.

unwritten source: (unwritten) With over 1,100 arrests – the largest mass-arrest in Canadian history — policing at the G20 requires answers. Media, human rights monitors, protestors and passers-by were scooped up off the streets. Detained people were not allowed to speak to a lawyer or to their families. Arbitrary searches occurred in countless locations across the city, in many instances several kilometers from the G20 summit site. Peaceful protests were violently dispersed and force was used. In an effort to locate and disable the ‘Black Bloc’, the police disregarded the constitutional rights of thousands.

The protests, beginning on Friday of the weekend, commenced with peaceful demonstrations by the citizens of Toronto, intending to bring attention to issues like world hunger, poverty, and economy. However, an exceedingly large policy presence was felt in the city. The largest protest followed on Saturday afternoon, a march of twenty-five thousand people. During this time, a small group of protestors left to cause property damage and vandalism on Queen, Yonge, and College streets. No police force came or was present to stop the vandalism.[4]

A fifty-nine page report, titled "Breach of the Peace", was conducted in 2011 by the Canadian Civil Liberties Association and National Union of Public and General Employees, the result of three public hearings in Toronto and Montreal. The report, detailing the alleged "scope and severity" of violations of rights during the summit, described the way police dealt with the situation as a "failure of policy and training".[5]

Hundreds of police officers were in riot gear.[1] During this time, one thousand, one hundred five people were arrested. The crackdown intensified after a small group of vandals smashed windows and set police cars on fire in the streets. Natalie Gray, aged twenty, alleged that she was hit by police fire____. Revenue Canada worker John Pruyn, aged fifty-eight, suffered his artificial leg being yanked off by police, as can be seen in a photograph.[5] According to the report, police "disregarded the constitutional rights of thousands."

Journalists and those working in the media were not safe from arrest. Jesse Rossenfield, a Canadian journalist working for Britain's Guardian newspaper. Allegedly, Rossenfield "talked too much"; two officers held him down, while a third punched him and elbowed him in the back.[6]

Aftermath Edit

Following the summit, Toronto's police chief admitted that the "5-meter rule" police were enforcing, that had citizens fearing arrest by being too close to the G20 perimeter, had never existed. The Ministry of Community Safety stated that all cabinet did was ____ law that governs entry to places like court houses and inside G20 fences. This policy was about property, not police powers. It did not include any mention of a five metre zone outside the perimeter. On whether or not the zone had existed, Blair answered, "No, but I was trying to keep the criminals out."[7]

Prime Minister Stephen Harper gave his approval for the work done by the police, implying that was what done was necessary as a response to the actions of "thugs". Harper's director of communications, Dimitri Soudas, stated, "Our police services did a magnificent job to ensure that these thugs don’t rampage around the city wreaking more havoc." United States President Obama also expressed his approval, calling the summit a success.[8]

(unwritten) "What is needed is a comprehensive review that can examine the decisions and policies of all of the actors involved in the G20. The G20 was a federal summit, hosted by the federal government, policed by a federal security agency and paid for by federal funds. The federal government is therefore best suited to coordinate such an inquiry, and provide the answers to the disturbing questions about civil liberties violations that resulted from the summit. Some of the issues for which the federal government should provide accountability include the necessity of the $930-million security budget for the G8/G20 Summits, and the infiltration of democratic protest groups by the RCMP and CSIS. Most importantly, only the federal government can decide if, and how much, financial compensation to award those whose civil liberties were violated during Summit."

Conclusion Edit

The G20 in Toronto was a failure all around in – a failure in communication and more importantly in proper application of the law.


"“That’s what you get for protesting”, is what a police officer is alleged to have said as she tied the hands of a protester and pushed her into the paddy wagon for a 20 hour detention. As though people should be jailed for exercising their constitutional right to protest and to peacefully assemble to express one’s opinion. Similar comments were made on talk shows across Canada. As we mark the two month anniversary of the G20 Summit, we are still left to ponder why over 1,100 people were arrested, why police charged peaceful protesters and rounded them up to send them to detention centres. On hot lines, some people suggest that protesters should have stayed home if they were afraid to be arrested.

This demonstrates a profound misunderstanding and disrespect for the freedom of peaceful assembly. How did we come to have this portrait of the protester as, at best, an irrelevant trouble-maker or at worst a dangerous terrorist? When did we begin to think that protesting was an extreme sport likely to end up, hands tied, in a jail for close to 24 hours?

Certainly, the $1 billion+ security budget needed a poster image of protesters as no-gooders, there to destroy the city. The inflammatory language, the ramping up of a rhetoric of danger, and the display of larger and larger numbers of riot-clad police officers omnipresent in the city seemed to give the impression that all Torontonians were at risk!

However, freedom of peaceful assembly is as important as the right to vote in a democracy. It should be treated with the same respect. Democracy is governance for the people by the people and politicians are expected to hear, consult, and engage with the people in between elections to govern effectively. But access to politicians is unequally distributed: rich people have their lobbyists and poor people have their feet. Marching in favour of or against a proposed policy is often the only way to be heard for people whose op-ed will not be published in the Toronto Star and whom the Minister will not meet at a cocktail party or a fundraising event.

An engaged citizenry, a citizenry that cares about politics, about the plight of poor people, of Aboriginal people, of students’ access to education, or any other cause is not to be despised, but valued. The day that the 20 most powerful leaders in the world come to town and that no one cares enough to present their cause or the cause of others, is the day that democratic life is finished. We should worry about that the next time we accept that peaceful protesters are punished because they wanted to be heard."

Notes and referencesEdit

  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 1.4 FORBES - Toronto G20 A Bad Idea
  2. FORBES - The G20 Failed Again
  3. 3.0 3.1 THE STAR - Downtown to become fortress
  4. 4.0 4.1 Two Months after G20
  5. 5.0 5.1 THE STAR - report detailing abuses
  6. TORONTO SUN - Journalist arrested
  7. MSN - Chief admits
  8. THE STAR - ‘Thugs’ justify huge summit security tab, Stephen Harper says
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