Not just about police

G-8, G-20 - juin 2010 - manifestations et dérives policières

The debate over the events of the G20 summit weekend has unfortunately been narrowed down to a single question: are you for the police or against them? This is distracting us from the broader issues involved.
Toronto City Council last week voted 36-0 to “commend the outstanding work” of Police Chief Bill Blair and his force during last month’s summit. Premier Dalton McGuinty said the police “conducted themselves remarkably well.” Conservative Leader Tim Hudak accused activists of trying to “demonize our police services” and added: “I proudly stand behind the men and women of our police services.”
All well and good. But it is also beside the point.
Critics of the mass arrests and other police actions over the G20 weekend — including this newspaper — are not blaming Blair and his officers, or at least not them exclusively. They were just a part of a much bigger force – the so-called Integrated Security Unit -- that occupied Toronto during the summit weekend, including the RCMP and OPP. The various police forces, in turn, were working within a framework of decisions made by the three levels of government — including the famous “secret law” imposed by McGuinty’s cabinet. The organizing committee for the summits (G8 and G20) was primarily made up of federal bureaucrats, who were given strict instructions by Prime Minister Stephen Harper to keep a lid on unruly demonstrators. They proceeded to spend a staggering $900 million on security measures and to turn Toronto’s downtown into an armed camp for the weekend.
Given this multi-layered operation, only a broad public inquiry would have the capacity to follow the decision-making trail that led, first, to the apparent strategy to let a few hooligans run amok, and later, to the arrest of more than 1,000 people (the vast majority of whom were let go with no charges, but only after spending the rest of the weekend in detention).
But by suggesting those favouring an inquiry are anti-police, our political leaders are deflecting attention from these broader questions, and from themselves.
As a result, we are left with a piecemeal process. Last week, the Toronto Police Services Board, the civilian oversight body, announced plans to set up an external “review” of the events on the G20 weekend. The review’s mandate is not yet public, but it will be difficult for the board to go beyond narrow questions about the Toronto police force, which, according to a report in the Star on Saturday, was out of the decision-making loop. As well, André Marin, the provincial ombudsman, announced last week he would investigate the circumstances surrounding the secret law.
And in Ottawa today, the federal New Democrats will push for the Commons committee on public safety and national security to hold public hearings on “all issues surrounding security at the G8 and G20 summits.”
These are welcome developments, but no substitute for a full inquiry.

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