A matter of rights

The next time Canadian police forces are preparing to provide security for a high-profile event where public protests are anticipated, all officers involved, including those in command, should reread the country’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

The next time Canadian police forces are preparing to provide security for a high-profile event where public protests are anticipated, all officers involved, including those in command, should reread the country’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

Specifically, police officers should reacquaint themselves with freedom of peaceful assembly, freedom of expression and freedom of the press.

Perhaps that would avoid what happened at the G20 summit in Toronto earlier this summer, when more than 1,000 people — most doing nothing illegal, as shown when the majority were released not long afterwards — were arrested, many apparently for simply being in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Maybe that would also avoid the spectacle of two class-action lawsuits being launched against the various police forces involved in providing security during the event.

The latest lawsuit, filed last week on behalf of 1,150 individuals and claiming $115 million in damages, seeks to “deter” the defendants in future from any action “which arbitrarily limits the democratic and constitutional rights of the people.”

We’re not arguing police didn’t have a job to do, or that there wasn’t a core group of violent protesters who intended to, and did, commit acts of vandalism.

Those circumstances, however, do not give police forces carte blanche to ignore the basic rights of other citizens.

Among those arrested were apparently people on their way to work, others who were protesting peacefully, as was their right, and even credential-carrying journalists, who were also there legally, doing their jobs.

As Toronto Star columnist Thomas Walkom put it recently, law enforcement leaders seemed to opt for a wave of pre-emptive arrests because the “police found civil liberties inconvenient.”

“Very China. Very Zimbabwe,” Walkom wrote. “Not very Canada.”

Two Ontario civilian oversight bodies are holding inquiries into police actions during the G20 summit in Toronto.

The Ontario special investigations unit, a police watchdog, is also investigating five cases of serious injury to civilians.

The results of those inquiries should not be prejudged. But clearly there are concerns about police actions during the summit.

From the Halifax Chronicle Herald.

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