Policing of G20 summit raises disturbing questions, says Alan Borovoy

As guest lecturer for the Canadian Studies Program at Glendon on March 21, Alan Borovoy, general counsel emeritus of the Canadian Civil Liberties Association, expressed deep concern about police activity at the G20 summit protests.

In his talk, Borovoy addressed issues of human rights violations by police against protesters and others during the G20 Summit of June 2010 in Toronto, and he raised some disturbing questions, including “Why and how did police arrest thousands of people, most of whom were peaceful protesters?”

Alan BorovoyRight: Alan Borovoy

The police used their authority for “preventive detention” – having the legal right to detain citizens merely on suspicion that they might breach the peace or commit some criminal activity – not only on peaceful protesters, but also on members of the press, human rights observers and innocent bystanders, said Borovoy. Entire groups of police went about their activities without their badges, making it impossible for them to be identified. They also used questionable techniques, such as “kettling” – where large groups of police surrounded protesters in such a way that they could not move or escape, while beating drums in a threatening way.

Those who were arrested were not allowed to exercise their civil rights to contact legal counsel, nor provided with the basic necessities or medication that was crucial to their health, said Borovoy. They were later released without a hearing, which meant the police who made these arrests and held them in detention were not held accountable. Despite a public uproar, the police and the government have not responded.

There were over 1,000 arrests during the summit, hundreds of people detained for breach of the peace, without any evidence of criminal activity, he said.

The Canadian Civil Liberties Association wants a public inquiry of the police’s G20 activities, but so far the government has refused to act. “Although our complaint system has improved in past years, it is still cop-heavy,” said Borovoy. “Police play too great a role in investigating their own activities. An independent complaint office at both the provincial and federal levels would eliminate many injustices and restore a more favourable public view towards the police force.”

Borovoy made several recommendations for improving police accountability, stating that requesting accountability should not be up to the victim. His recommendations included the need for written evidence to prove reasonable grounds for every arrest; that police should be subject to cross examination to find out if there were reasonable doubts for an arrest; and that these measures of police accountability should be included in the Criminal Code.

Borovoy was general counsel of the Canadian Civil Liberties Association from 1968 until 2009. He is the author of The New Anti-Liberals (Canadian Scholars’ Press, 1999), Uncivil Obedience: The Tactics and Tales of a Democratic Agitator (Lester Publishing, 1999), and When Freedoms Collide: The Case for Our Civil Liberties (Lester & Orpen Denny’s, 1988), which was nominated for the Governor General’s Literary Award in 1988. He is also a part-time lecturer in Glendon’s Canadian Studies Program.

Submitted by Marika Kemeny, Glendon communications officer