Torontonians still angry a year after G20 summit

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A full year after the mayhem that gripped Toronto during the G20 summit, Torontonians still do not have answers to many questions. Who ordered the police to go berserk arresting more than 1100 people (the largest in Canadian history), the overwhelming majority completely peaceful protesters or innocent bystanders, and why officers responsible for unprovoked violence have not been charged? There is stonewalling starting at the highest level of government. Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty who hurriedly granted vast new powers to the police refuses to apologize for turning the city into a police state; Prime Minister Stephen Harper refuses to order a public inquiry and the police chief, Bill Blair, who initially said the police had done a “great job,” admitted on June 23 that there were some “shortcomings” in policing but no apologies have been offered.

Torontonians have not forgotten the mayhem and violation of their fundamental rights a year ago. Canadian officials are quick to lecture others around the world about respecting citizens’ rights; Canada has even sent its police to train the Afghans. If the rights of Canadians are not respected, as evidenced during last year’s G20 summit, one wonders what kind of values Canadian police will impart to the Afghans? Further, what right do Canadian officials have to question governments elsewhere about respecting citizens’ rights when they themselves have such a cavalier attitude toward the right of their own citizens enshrined in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms? When protesters called upon the police to respect their rights, they were slammed to ground and told, “Here are your rights,” as they were kicked and punched.

No public inquiry has been held much less any heads rolled. This is not for lack of public pressure. Civil society leaders have repeatedly demanded a public inquiry as well as resignation of the police chief. On June 25, there was a huge rally at Queen’s Park, site of much of police’s uncalled for brutality during last year’s summit at which speakers once again called for the police chief to resign. Sid Ryan, president of the Ontario Federation of Labour demanded Blair’s resignation, as did 58-year-old retired civil servant John Pruyn, whose prosthetic leg, he says, the police yanked during last year’s G20 summit. He said the thought of returning to the site made him sick to his stomach.

A survey published in the Saturday Star (June 25) showed 67% of Torontonians want a public inquiry into G20 policing, 54% believe the police response to demonstrations was unjustified, and 44% say their confidence in police has dropped. Further, while a year ago, 73% said the police were justified in heavy-handed treatment of protesters, this figure has dropped to only 41% today as details of police brutality have emerged –” people shackled in cages, stripped naked, or beaten. The most frequently cited feelings of people have been “shame,” “disgust,” “sadness” and “anger.”

The police had already decided how they were going to treat protesters. Three days before the G20 summit, paralegal Sean Salvati had a run-in with RCMP and Toronto police that he says resulted in him being arrested, beaten, stripped and marched naked in front of a female officer (the scene was captured on police video and obtained by his lawyer through Freedom of Information request). All he did, he says, was make some cheeky remarks to two RCMP officers –” and he found himself in an 11-hour ordeal being interrogated about G20 protests that he had nothing to do with.

There are no answers from the police or different levels of government. All that the people have had is stonewalling. And they are upset.

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