By Alex Neve, Toronto Star, May 19, 2012
Alex Neve is secretary general of Amnesty International Canada.
A prominent human rights body meeting in Geneva is asking questions about the way police in Ontario respond to native land rights protests.
This week, Canada makes its regular report before the United Nations Committee against Torture — the independent expert body that oversees the international human rights treaty for the prevention of torture and ill-treatment. The committee has asked Canadian representatives to explain why recommendations that came out of the landmark Ipperwash inquiry into policing and aboriginal protests in Ontario have not been implemented. Standards for police use of force, police accountability and respect for the right to protest are all matters protected in international human rights law.
The report from the high-profile inquiry was issued five years ago this month. The Ontario Provincial Police claims all the recommendations directed at the force have been addressed. And for its part, the provincial government appears satisfied the OPP’s work is done.
Last year, however, Amnesty International published a detailed case study of how the OPP responded to protests over a long-standing, unresolved land claim in the Tyendinaga Mohawk Territory near Belleville. On two occasions, in 2007 and 2008, the OPP mobilized hundreds of officers, including its highest level of response, the Tactics and Rescue Unit, commonly known as the sniper squad. This preparation to use lethal force against Mohawk activists took place despite the fact that no evidence has ever been presented that the protest constituted a serious threat to public safety.
In the April 2008 incident, a confrontation between protesters and police escalated to the point that OPP officers aimed high-powered rifles at unarmed protesters and bystanders. During the subsequent trial of activists charged in connection with the incidents, the trial judge commented on the efforts that many of those arrested had made to prevent tensions with police and non-aboriginal counterprotesters from escalating. In contrast, the judge noted that miscommunication among the OPP, including a broken promise not to arrest protesters escorting elders from the site of the confrontation, had contributed to the situation erupting out of control.
During the trial, questions were raised about whether the OPP had followed its own policies for minimizing the use of force in responding to aboriginal protest. One officer with the Tactics and Rescue Unit acknowledged that he was not very familiar with those policies.
The Ipperwash inquiry was held in response to long-standing concerns over a similar incident in 1995 when a police sniper shot an unarmed protester, Dudley George, after the OPP moved to break up the occupation of Ipperwash Provincial Park. That land has since been returned to the Stony Point First Nation in recognition of its legitimate claim to the land.
The May 2007 report of the Ipperwash inquiry provided a clear account of how the failure to reach a timely and just resolution in indigenous land disputes fuels frustration and protest. The inquiry report also stressed that a heavy-handed response to occupations and protests is inappropriate, unjust and even dangerous.
Crucially, the inquiry report recognized that the rule of law that police and government must respect and uphold is complex. The rule of law necessarily includes the right of protesters to speak out, and to be safe from harm while doing so. The rule of law also includes respect for indigenous people’s rights to lands and territories that are affirmed in treaties and the Canadian Constitution.
During the inquiry, the OPP emphasized the importance of a new policy framework it adopted after the killing of Dudley George. The Framework for Police Preparedness for Aboriginal Critical Incidents states that the OPP will “make every effort prior to understand the issues and to protect the rights of all involved parties . . . ” and “promote and develop strategies that minimize the use of force to the fullest extent possible.”
The inquiry report endorsed the framework, but it went even farther. Noting that police and politicians are often under intense public pressure to end aboriginal protests quickly, the inquiry took up a recommendation from the OPP calling for the province to adopt a similar “peacekeeping” model as official policy across all relevant departments and to promote public understanding of the need for such an approach.
The inquiry report also called on the province to ensure that the OPP’s implementation of its own framework is subject to an independent assessment to determine how effectively the approach has been adopted into OPP procedures and organizational culture.
Five years later, despite the McGuinty government’s pledge to fully implement the Ipperwash inquiry, the government has yet to adopt the recommended province-wide policy on aboriginal protests. Nor has there been an independent assessment of how well the OPP is living up to the policy framework that it promoted to the inquiry.
The questions being asked about the treatment of aboriginal protesters by police are valid. It’s unfortunate that they have to be asked Geneva, rather than being answered at Queen’s Park.
And then there is the recent report on policing at the 2010 meeting of the G20 in Toronto.
By Tabatha Southey, Globe and Mail, May 19, 2012
This week’s scathing report by Ontario’s independent police watchdog concluded that the police used excessive force during the G20 protests, that the mass arrests were unlawful and that there were numerous breaches of constitutional rights.
And, indeed, the G20 was a weekend of excess in every way. It seemed as if too much money had been spent on the whole affair. I was reminded of parties I once attended in the mostly unfurnished, newly rented homes of freshly successful film directors. Sometimes I’d think, “What is it that does this to people? A man earns some decent money and all of a sudden there’s an ice swan on the table.” A 30-year-old guy starts making $2-million a year, and suddenly he’s throwing his 50th wedding anniversary party. He forgets himself. He forgets the demographic he will be serving that weekend.
Close to $1-billion was spent on security for the G20 gathering. It was as if the officials won policing a summit in a lottery. Ostentatious displays of policing were everywhere – hundreds of riot-gear-clad officers charging repeatedly through peaceful crowds, banging their massive riot shields like so many big-screen TVs ordered in bulk for the guest bathroom.
Like the ice swan, these expenditures bore almost no relation to the events at hand. The independent police reviewer this week wrote exactly what struck me most as an observer: “It is fortunate that, in all the confusion, there were no deaths.”
“He’s maniacal,” the report records one officer saying of the on-duty incident commander who ordered that 400 peaceful protesters be detained on conspiracy to commit mischief. They, along with various passersby, tourists, observers and journalists, were kettled for hours, in torrential rain, without, as some officers at the scene suggested, first being given a chance to disperse peacefully.
In all of this, the investigation of a man who was headed to a role-playing game and transporting a longbow and arrows – with the tips cut off and replaced with bits of pool noodle wrapped in a sock – resulted in police officials displaying these “weapons” as trophies. Trust me, people, we’ll know when the nerds attack: Some of them are wizards.
Little wonder we are reading letters to the editor like this one: (From the Globe and Mail, May 19, 2012)
Policing in Canada is broken – and not just the RCMP
Across this land, we constantly hear ugly policing stories. Just a few: tethering a teen in Victoria to a jailhouse door, multiple taser discharges in Vancouver’s airport, one-way trips in the winter in Saskatoon, strip searches in Ottawa, the behaviour of the Toronto Police Service at the G20, and more.
Can it be corrected? Yes – if the police want to fix it. They created the mess, they are capable of correcting it: The police have to stop investigating themselves or another force; they can charge officers who clearly act inappropriately; they can admit and accept their errors.
The events in Toronto took place under the command of the chief. The responsibility for these events must move up in the chain of command. With such a scathing report, if there is ever a chance to start to clean up Canada’s broken policing, now is the time. Does the chief of the Toronto Police Service have the fortitude to start in his own office?
Robert D. Townsend, Saanich, B.C.
Known as a relatively decent, civil and orderly society, Canada has regarded police and the efforts to "police" unruly citizens as a noble duty and a usually successful containment.
However, with the Vancouver riots, following the Canucks failure to win the Stanley Cup in 2011, and the recent fourteen-week street protests in Quebec over rising tuition rates, one has to wonder if an essential public service itself needs more or more effective oversight.
Clearly the public behaves in ways never really contemplated in most cities and towns, as witnessed in the protests coincident with G-20 meetings, where opponents of the corporate culture that accompanies globalization, along with increased evidence of a growing gap between have's and have-nots, along with a growing sense of powerlessness on the part of the masses, and
Clearly, too, Canadian police forces have not been prepared for the exigencies of such protests, especially for the sincerity of those participating. And politicians, naturally and historically, have to maintain public order, there is an inevitable potential explosion around the next corner, depending on the ire of the public and the preparedness (or lack thereof) of the authorities.
In the heat of the moment, one does not have the luxury of deciding whether 'this protest' is legitimate or frivolous, and those charged with keeping order have to confront real people and real actions in real time.
And also in the heat of the moment, normally civilized people can and often do become unruly, disorderly and even destructive...perhaps venting emotions unable to find release heretofore.
Respect for the law, for the government, and for those responsible for keeping public order, like the falling respect in other public institutions, has never been lower. And, for the letter writer to place the blame, for example in the G-20 fiasco on the Chief in Toronto is simplistic.
We all contribute to the culture that witnesses its own unravelling. We all have to examine our attitudes and beliefs and perceptions about the importance of both law and order and legitimate protest against stupid or ill-thought, or repressive steps by our political leaders. And one thing is certain, the more "stupid" those proposing the laws, the more likelihood will be the public protest.