OTTAWA — The head of the RCMP has defended police actions at the G20 summit in Toronto despite mass arrests and complaints of excesses including violent tactics and arbitrary searches.
In correspondence released under the Access to Information Act, RCMP Commissioner William Elliott says police “exercised restraint” and “acted professionally” to ensure everyone’s safety.
G8 leaders gathered in cottage country near Huntsville, Ont., in late June before joining other politicians for the G20 summit in Toronto.
The Commission for Public Complaints Against the RCMP has launched an investigation into policing of the G8 and G20 meetings after receiving 28 complaints about the Mounties’ role, including one from the Canadian Civil Liberties Association.
The association says media, human-rights monitors, protesters and passersby were scooped up off the streets during the summit. More than 1,000 people were arrested as some protesters damaged shops and cars in downtown Toronto.
Detained people were not allowed to speak to a lawyer or to their families, the civil liberties association says.
Arbitrary searches were conducted in numerous Toronto locations, peaceful protests were violently dispersed and, in an effort to locate and shut down radical Black Bloc activists, the police disregarded the constitutional rights of thousands, the group adds.
Many young protesters are still traumatized by what happened in Toronto, said Nathalie Des Rosiers, general counsel for the civil liberties association, which recently co-hosted its own public hearings on police activity during the G20 summit.
“They are scared of the police,” she said. “Some of them were deeply affected.”
The association complaint focuses on RCMP involvement in overall security planning, possible infiltration and surveillance of individuals or groups, use of force, detentions and arrests during the summits, and conditions at Toronto’s Eastern Avenue jail facilities.
In the undated letter, apparently drafted shortly after the summit, Elliott says in light of the “criminal acts” committed by some G20 demonstrators, police continually assessed the situation and “any action that was taken had to be measured, balanced and appropriate to the circumstances at hand.”
“I was told that police waited to make an intervention or arrest until the time or circumstances (provided) a situation that presented the least amount of risk to th public, officers and residents. Overall, police exercised restraint, (and) acted professionally to ensure the safety of the public and officers,” adds the letter.
Elliott says he understands concerns about some of the arrests, “but I would like to mention that police can arrest and take into custody persons if they find someone committing a breach of the peace or who, on reasonable grounds, they believe is about to join in or renew the breach of the peace.”
Sgt. Julie Gagnon, an RCMP spokeswoman, says the letter obtained by The Canadian Press under the access law was a template for responses from Elliott to those who complained directly to him about the force’s conduct.
Gagnon said the commissioner still believes that, overall, police “responded in a way that was reasonable and appropriate.”
“All tactical decisions were made in the best interest of public and police officer safety.”
An August briefing note disclosed under the access law indicates the complaints commission initially planned a more informal review of RCMP actions. Senior RCMP officers, including Elliott, endorsed such a “low-key and measured” examination, partly because it would avoid the “significant stigma” of a broader public-interest investigation.
Gagnon said the briefing note was written before the association complaint, which prompted the complaints commission to begin a full public-interest probe. There was “never any intent to avoid public scrutiny,” she added.
Another memo released by the RCMP says the joint intelligence group assigned to the summits “provided investigators with information to build criminal cases.”
Des Rosiers hopes that the complaints commission investigation — one of several probes underway — will turn up information about possible police infiltration of protest groups.
“What were they allowed to do and not allowed to do?” she asked. “Is there a code of ethics for infiltration?”