By Liz Rowley, leader of the Communist Party of Canada (Ontario)
Ontario Ombudsman Andre Marin has concluded that police and government action that led to the arrest, detention and beatings of 1105 people last June 26/27 in Toronto constitute “the most massive compromise of civil liberties in Canadian history”.
It’s a clear statement that the violence at the G20 protests, and before, was caused by police and directed at protestors and passersby.
Marin’s report to the Ontario Legislature on the G8/G20 Summits holds Toronto Police Chief Bill Blair responsible for much of the violence. The Ontario Liberal Cabinet is responsible for giving police extraordinary powers, with a regulatory change to the Public Works Protection Act which effectively allowed police to implement martial law in Toronto.
The Public Works Protection Act is World War II legislation, intended for use in a war situation. Police and parliaments used it to declare war on more than 40,000 Canadians exercising their civil and constitutional rights to legally assemble, demonstrate, and speak out against the Summits, and the austerity policies being imposed across the globe, including in Canada.
Many of those arrested were beaten and detained without access to phones, legal counsel, food or bathrooms for long periods. Many were subjected to strip searches and body cavity searches intended to frighten, humiliate and intimidate. Most were young, and police appeared to target demonstrators from Québec, pulling buses over on the highway and making mass arrests.
Until Marin’s report hit the Legislature, none of the various public bodies looking into the police attacks was able to hold the cops or governments responsible. Thousands of photos showed police beating demonstrators, but hidden faces and badge numbers prevented individual officers from being identified. Civilian police overseers like the Special Investigations Unit (SIU) claimed their hands were tied.
The Toronto Star called on the public to send in photos and videos showing the vicious police attack on Adam Nobody, whose case has come to symbolize the brutality and the lies and cover‑ups that followed. The response was huge, including new photos identifying the police who beat Nobody within an inch of his life. Still, Chief Blair has resisted arresting the identified officers, claiming internal procedures trump criminal charges against the officers.
In fact, police brutality was so widespread the courts would be choked with criminal charges against cops who assaulted peaceful protesters. Many of those assaulted have signed onto a class action suit against all the police forces involved (from across Canada), provincial, federal, and municipal governments, plus named individuals. The issue in this class action is nailed by Andre Marin: the implementation of martial law in Toronto, the arbitrary mass arrest and detention of 1105 people, and the suspension of civil liberties and democratic rights.
The McGuinty government is now in damage control, debating whether to amend or kill the Public Works Protection Act. With a provincial election next October, there is fear the Act could be used again by a very right-wing Tory government if the Liberals don’t scrap it now.
In a strange twist, the Tories are casting themselves as defenders of democracy as they respond to the Marin Report and attack the Liberals. This is more of the dangerous right‑wing populism that snookered Toronto in the civic elections.
The Communist Party of Canada (Ontario) is calling for a full public inquiry, and for scrapping the Public Works Protection Act. The threat to democracy and civil liberties is serious, even more so as civilian oversight bodies responsible for holding police to account have proven incapable and powerless.
Establishing strong civilian controls over police, and democratic controls over Legislatures and Parliaments, is vital. This will be a crucial part of the struggle to curb corporate power in Canada, says the CPC (Ontario). The fight for democracy is at the centre of almost every struggle today.