Post-G20 debate focuses on balancing civil liberty with public safety

It’s always a delicate balance between protecting civil liberties and ensuring public safety, wrote the Toronto Star June 28.

This G20 summit weekend, while peaceful protests did turn violent, some believe the police – who with their sheer numbers in full riot gear – went too far, at times, in their actions, proportionately to the threat.

For Lorne Sossin, a University of Toronto law professor and incoming dean of York’s Osgoode Hall Law School, the handling of the sound cannon struck a good balance. The police displayed it early, opponents challenged it in court and in the end a judge ruled it could be used, but only under certain conditions.

By contrast, the granting of additional police powers to detain those refusing to present identification within five metres of the fence, while approved in a lawful fashion, was not publicized, said Sossin.

"The middle ground to me is where the reasonable citizen or protester will say, this is a fair tool for the police, it may not be ideal," he said, adding when there are individuals looking for windows to throw bricks through, it doesn’t seem unreasonable to search bags.

But the extra police powers expire on Monday, surveillance cameras are coming down and tapes will be destroyed after a certain time.

"It’s a quintessentially Canadian approach to the legitimate demands of security, but with the enduring commitments to privacy, civil liberties and allowing dissent to happen," Sossin said.  

Why didn’t police arrest Black Bloc at beginning, asks Rebick

The so-called Black Bloc strategy was deployed Saturday by a small splinter group that infiltrated what had been a large, peaceful protest in Toronto’s downtown, reported The Canadian Press June 27. 

Roving militants emerged from the crowd to destroy symbols of capitalism, then melted back into the larger group and shed their disguises – black hooded sweatshirts, pants and masks.  

The result was the most violent outburst the city has ever seen.  

Police stood by Saturday as the anarchists set their cruisers ablaze. But by Sunday their attitude had changed, and almost anyone on the streets wearing black was stopped and searched.  

Judy Rebick, an adjunct professor in the York and Ryerson Joint Graduate Program in Communication & Culture, is questioning the police response to the riots. She believes police allowed crowds to get out of control, despite having informants in the crowd.  

“What they could have done is arrest the Black Bloc at the beginning before they had a chance to be part of the bigger crowd and that’s what they didn’t do,” she said.  

  • Robert Latham and David McNally, political science professors in York’s Faculty of Liberal Arts & Professional Studies, discussed the G20 resistance, including the Black Bloc, on “CBC News Now”, CBC News Network June 27.

Video feed of G20-related trials is not unreasonable, says Young

People being tried on G20-related charges will appear in court behind closed doors: Anyone wanting to check out the proceedings will have to watch via video feed, reported The Globe and Mail June 26. 

Having the public in the courtroom would be a security risk, court staff say. Several lawyers argue refusing the public entry undermines basic principles of an open-court system.  

But Alan Young, a professor at York’s Osgoode Hall Law School, said making the public watch from an adjoining room isn’t all that unreasonable. What’s more worrisome, he said, is that authorities are anticipating such a glut of G20-related charges that they’ve set a special courtroom aside to deal with all of them.  

Police arrest of York student was outrageous, says Star

As the Toronto Star reported on Friday, York University graduate student and environmental activist Dave Vasey got into potentially serious trouble when he and a friend were exploring the outside perimeter of the chain-link fence that encloses the summit site, wrote the newspaper in a June 26 editorial. Police stopped Vasey and demanded that he identify himself. When he balked they arrested him and held him for hours in a wire cage.  

This is outrageous. If it doesn’t infringe his charter right to "peaceful assembly", it crowds it needlessly. No one on the outside of the security zone should face such harassment. There aren’t even any signs warning people that they are in a controlled area. But they are, as Vasey discovered to his shock.

Veterinarians woken up by police seeking York protesters

Two Toronto veterinarians say they were woken up at gunpoint on Saturday morning by police officers who thought they were the anti-G20 protesters who live in the apartment downstairs, reported the National Post

John Booth said the officers forced their way into their High Park-area home at 4am, turning their home into chaos for about 45 minutes, but were unwilling to show their warrant.  

Booth, 30, said he was handcuffed, and spent about 15 minutes on the curb outside the home in cuffs before his identity was cleared up.  

The officers said they were looking for an activist named “Peter”, who apparently lived downstairs. Several York University students live in the downstairs apartment. Booth said he doesn’t know them well, but did see they were painting anti-G20 signs on Friday night.

Women are better at recognizing faces than men: York study

If you have trouble putting a name to a face it may be because you are a man, reported MailOnline, the online version of the UK-based Daily Mail June 28. 

In a study of 120 people, women were five per cent more successful at identifying faces than the men.

Jennifer Steeves, a psychology professor in York’s Faculty of Health who led the study, said: “There is a small but significant difference in how reliably and how quickly men and women can recognize faces. Women just seem to be more efficient at it than men.” 

Saffron Ellidge, a face reader from London who helps vet job candidates for employers, said the study, carried out by York University in Toronto, matches her findings. She said: “In my work I have observed that the people with the worst facial recognition skills are what you would call alpha males. They tend to be most absorbed in their own emotions, whereas those who want to gain rapport with others are better at it.” 

York grad takes reins of Four Seasons Hotels

When Kathleen Taylor first joined Four Seasons Hotels Ltd. more than two decades ago, the Toronto-based chain was already the world’s pre-eminent luxury hotelier, reported the Toronto Star and Oshawa This Week June 26. 

Taylor, a self-proclaimed "small-town kid" who grew up in Oshawa, couldn’t dream then she would end up holding the top job. In fact, even though she joined the organization as a lawyer, she had never before stayed in one of the chain’s upscale rooms.  

From humble roots, Taylor, 52, would eventually get her law and MBA degrees from York University in 1984 before working on Bay Street. After joining Four Seasons in 1989, she rose through the ranks quickly.  

Markham councillors avoid voting on integrity motions

Markham councillors voted this week to defer a pair of motions calling for the creation of an integrity commissioner and a lobbyist registry, and asking the province to ban corporate and union contributions to municipal election campaigns, reported the National Post June 27. 

Robert MacDermid, a political science professor in York’s Faculty of Liberal Arts & Professional Studies, citing similar bans at the provincial level in other regions, says it is likely Ontario will eventually do the same both provincially and municipally, calling it "a current that will be difficult to swim against."  

Stutchbury is hopeful that songbirds can be saved

In Silence of the Songbirds: How We Are Losing the World’s Songbirds and What We Can Do to Save Them, Bridget Stutchbury alerted the world to an alarming decline in songbird population resulting mainly from habitat destruction, environmental pollution and climate change, reported The Boston Globe June 27.  

Stutchbury’s latest book, The Private Lives of Birds: A Scientist Reveals the Intricacies of Avian Social Life, analyzes the social lives of birds along with the evolutionary and environmental explanations for their behaviour.  

Whether she is describing a Pennsylvania forest or a Panamanian jungle, Stutchbury is as entertainingly informative about our species as she is about the avian world. She lives in Ontario and Pennsylvania and spoke from Toronto, where she is a biology professor in York’s Faculty of Science & Engineering. 

Asked whether we are still losing songbirds, Stutchbury said: “Yes. Some species are declining by two per cent per year. Yet because these songbirds were once so abundant, even after decades of oil spills and habitat damage, many of them are still common. There are still wood thrush left, even though we may have lost half of them. But where will we be in another 40 years? Will we have lost half as many again? Environmental policies are not changing as fast as I would like them to, but I am hopeful that it’s not too late to turn things around.  

In deep-water drilling, a delicate dance

Chevron has already demonstrated the risks of drilling in the storm-tossed North Atlantic, reported The Globe and Mail June 26 in a feature on regulating deep-water oil drilling in the wake of the BP spill in the Gulf of Mexico. 

The company drilled its initial deepwater well in the Orphan Basin three years ago. During a violent storm, its drill ship broke free of the well tubing. No oil was spilled and Chevron says the incident illustrates it can disengage from a well and seal it. But 74,000 litres of synthetic drill mud was released to the ocean floor.  

It took three months to assess the spill, noted Gail Fraser, a professor in York’s Faculty of Environmental Studies. "An assessment of a spill three months after its occurrence of a spill does not constitute valid assessment of the environmental impact," she told a Commons committee. 

On air

  • Laurence Packer, a biology professor in York’s Faculty of Science & Engineering, talked about his new book, Keeping the Bees: Why All Bees Are At Risk and What We Can Do to Save Them, on CBC Radio’s “Quirks & Quarks” June 26.
  • Bernie Wolf, a professor in York’s Schulich School of Business, took part in a panel discussion on the economic issues facing the world’s leaders at the G8/G20 summits, on “Primetime Politics”, CPAC-TV, June 25.
  • Highlights of the opening ceremonies of the Asian Games from York University were aired on OMNI TV’s Cantonese edition June 25.