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NEWS: Demands for a public inquiry on the G20 summit grow

Concerns are being raised today about the unprecedented infringement of civil liberties at the G20 summit in Toronto this past weekend, there is more commentary on the obvious alternative and better choice of having these meetings at the United Nations, and there are growing calls for a public inquiry.

Vancouver Sun columnist Barbara Yaffe writes today that “consideration should have been given to staging the (G8 and G20) summits at the United Nations in New York.”

The Council of Canadians repeatedly made the point in the months leading up to these summits that meetings of this nature should take place at the UN, but also that they should include all 192-member countries.

That argumentation is in our ‘scrap the summits’ action alert at http://canadians.org/action/2010/scrap-summit.html.

Yaffe writes, “Just as politically damaging was a June 2 decision by the Ontario government — obviously with knowledge and consent of the Harper government — to quietly approve the suspension of constitutional rights under the Charter of Rights. That action poses the question as to what are the value of constitutional rights if they can be suspended at a government’s whim?”

The Globe and Mail reports that, “The Canandian Civil Liberties Association said it was ‘unconstitutional’ for the police to use the legislation to broaden their powers near the security fence, and enable officers to search and demand identification from anyone approaching and seeking entry. The CCLA’s general counsel Nathalie Des Rosiers said police appeared to be searching backpacks and demanding identification far from the five-metre buffer zone around the fence that was outlined in the legislation.”

TVO veteran journalist Steve Paikin writes in the Ottawa Citizen today that, “In Toronto the Good, we saw a law passed and enforced that was more anti-democratic than the War Measures Act. And we saw twice as many people arrested over a single 24-hour period in Toronto — more than 900 at last count — than what took place during the October Crisis in Quebec 40 years ago. And that event is in our history books as the most notorious abuse of civil rights in modern Canadian history. Back in the early 1960s, the government of John Robarts tried to pass a similarly far-reaching law (Bill 99), which would have given the police powers similar to what they had this weekend. The government’s own backbenchers found the law so inappropriate and inconsistent with our democratic traditions that they mutinied. Premier Robarts’ attorney-general, Fred Cass, was forced to withdraw the bill and resign.”

The Council of Canadians highlighted its opposition to this law as soon as we heard news reports about it on Friday afternoon. Just prior to our ‘Shout Out for Global Justice’ event at Massey Hall we headed down to the security fence with a measuring tape and yellow duct tape. We measured five metres from the fence and then marked that distance with yellow duct tape. Then we spoke to the media about our concerns. Our report on that – with a photo of Maude with the measuring tape – is at http://canadians.org/campaignblog/?p=4082.

After I filed that blog, I started walking on my own to Massey Hall. I was stopped and surrounded by five Toronto police officers – at least 7-8 metres from the security fence – and questioned for 30 minutes as to why I would have measuring tape and duct tape in a bag. I explained our concerns and the media work we had just done and their response was to say they had always had those powers and that I should do better research if I thought that was a new law. They demanded my identification and then continued to question me as they ran a background check on me.

Yaffe notes, “The weekend mayhem was condemned by the Council of Canadians, Amnesty International and the Canadian Civil Liberties Association. The latter group described the detention of people — including uninvolved passersby and journalists who had their credentials — who weren’t given a chance to contact lawyers, as ‘a serious violation of basic rights of hundreds of people.’ The Council of Canadians is calling for a public inquiry into the appropriateness of police actions.”

The Globe and Mail adds, “Amnesty International Canada is calling on the federal and Ontario governments to launch an independent review of security tactics. The Canadian Civil Liberties Association is to release a report on G20 policing later Tuesday outlining what it says are serious breaches of civil rights. The organization has also denounced the high tally of detentions; more than 900 people were arrested during the weekend, the largest mass arrests in Canadian history. Most people were released without charge. In addition, a Facebook group is calling for a public inquiry into the G20, with dozens of comments critical of police actions. Almost 4,000 people had ‘liked’ the group by early Tuesday morning.”

The Toronto Star editorial board writes today that, “Lest locking down streets and mass arrests become the new norm for protests in our city, questions about the policing tactics used on the G20 weekend should be addressed in a systematic fashion through a public inquiry.”

The Toronto police have just announced that they will launch their own investigation of their own activities. Clearly, this is insufficient.

Our media release calling for a public inquiry and our contextualizing of Saturday, can be read at http://canadians.org/media/other/2010/28-Jun-10-a.html.

Yaffe concludes, “Of more significance for the Conservatives, however, is the opinion of ordinary Canadians who, after seeing where their billion dollars went on the weekend, are likely shaking their heads.”

Our own polling shows that Canadians are in fact shaking their heads about this waste of money. In the weeks leading up to the G8 and G20 summits, the Council of Canadians hosted an on-line poll that asked people if they thought a billion dollars of public money was well spent on these summits. The final results as of today: 52 said ‘yes’, 21 said they ‘don’t know’, and an overwhelming 804 said ‘no’.