Monday, June 27, 2011

The G20 riots in Toronto: the first anniversary

    This past weekend marked the first anniversary of the riots at the time of the G20 meeting that was held in downtown Toronto. The Canadian government spent more than a one billion dollars on the G8 and G20 meetings.
    Although we live not far from the areas where the riots took place, we were glad that we did not go there. But we were able to watch what happened on TV, since everything was broadcast live.
    More than 1,100 arrests were made. According to statistics released last week by Ontario's Ministry of the Attorney General, only 317 people were charged with G20-related criminal offences, but 187 cases were withdrawn, stayed or dismissed. Now a year later, just 24 people have been convicted.
    The province's public ombudsman has called these mass arrests "the most massive compromise of civil liberties in Canadian history."
    Public opinion has changed in the meantime. Immediately following the summit, 73% of Torontonians said police were justified in their response to the demonstrations. A year later, that figure has dropped to 41%.
    Three out of four people in Toronto think that it was a mistake to hold the meeting in Toronto. The part of the downtown area where the summit was held was cordoned off by a high fence. Anyone who approached the fence was immediately arrested. But most people were arrested far away from the site where the fence was.
   Many businesses were forced to close for the weekend. Many more were vandalized by the rioters. Only a handful of whom were agitators, known as the Black Block, because of the clothes they wore.
   The majority of those arrested were simply bystanders. This was especially true on the final day when hundreds of people were "kettled," that is surrounded by the police. They were kept like that for hours in the pelting rain, before being either released or brought to a detention center, where those who were arrested were initially processed. Many complaints were made about that detention center.
    More than two thirds of Torontonians now support holding a public inquiry into the G20 policing, and more than half disagree with the actions of the police. And 50% of the people believe that "kettling" was unnecessary.
    What is most worrisome, is that 44% say that their confidence in the police is not as high as it was before.
    The Toronto police chief issued a report last week in which he admitted that there had been a breakdown in communications, especially between all the police forces that had been brought in from all over the country. Yet is was Toronto officers who formed the bulk of the 5,700 police during that weekend.
    The report stated that "kettling" would no longer be used. The damage, however, has been done. Trust with the public has been broken, and it will take a long time to restore it.
    While the rioters did smear the image of Toronto, the police inflamed and exacerbated the problem through their tactics. Only two Toronto police officers have been charged thus far, and even those two were the result of newspaper investigations. The police themselves refused to divulge any information that could identify these two officers. The Special Investigations Unit that is supposed to investigate the police was turned into a comic sideshow.
    Until now only a few cases of compensation for damages incurred by businesses have been completed, but the amounts awarded are negligible. The business community is still seething.
    So are Torontonians, especially as new revelations come out about how the civil rights of many people were violated. One paralegal was arrested and strip-searched by male officers, paraded nude in front of a female officer, and then left naked in a cell for 48 minutes. The charges did not justify such a search. He has now filed a lawsuit against the police.
    Apologies by the police would do much to clear the air, but that will probably never happen. Yet if there is to be healing, apologies are an important part of the process. Restorative justice can help bring about that healing.
    The pending court cases will not bring healing, since they are adversarial in nature. Apologies and proper compensation, not the meager amounts offered so far by the government, will do much to restore relationships between the police and the public. In addition, there must be more transparency when it comes to investigations of the police, but such openness is not exclusive to restorative justice.
    I admit I am an advocate for restorative justice, especially in situations such as what happened in Toronto a year ago and more recently in Vancouver.

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