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EDITORIAL: Lessons to be learned from Excessive Force (Spring 2018)

May 1st, 2018 · 1 Comment

Sometimes a mea culpa comes in the form of a memoir. Such is the case with Alok Mukherjee, who was the chair of the Toronto Services Board from 2005 to 2015, a period that included the G20 economic summit in June 2010 in Toronto.

In Excessive Force, published last month, Mukherjee considers how police, particularly the Toronto Police Service (TPS), (mis)managed security during the summit. According to Mukherjee, there was a lack of training and planning, and perhaps most damning, no common articulation of shared values that one should expect from the police service.

The “21,000 security personnel on Toronto streets during the summit included 6,200 Toronto officers, 5,000 from the RCMP, 3,000 from the Canadian Armed Forces, 3,000 from the Ontario Provincial Police and 740 from Peel Region,” writes Mukherjee in his book. “Collectively, the police response was one of confusion, communication breakdowns and overreaction.”

It’s a timely mea culpa.

Canada is preparing to host the G7 summit in Quebec in June, and Mukherjee’s inside account of how and why things went so awry could hopefully prevent the problems — including blurred lines of authority, no accountability, and a lack of operational preparedness — from happening again.

The author describes the “darkest chapter in Toronto police history, where officers — as many as 100 — removed their identity badges during confrontations with protesters, in clear violation of police board policy requiring every uniformed member of the police service to wear their name badge. As many as 1,140 protesters, peaceful and otherwise, were arrested.”

These arrests and the time spent in an overcrowded, chaotic, temporary jail may represent one of the worst breaches of civil rights in the history of peacetime policing in Canada.

At Queen’s Park, designated by event planners as a peaceful protest site, protestors were targeted by police and subjected to violent take-downs, heavy-handedness, and other mistreatment that’s been widely documented in media accounts. The police also used “kettling” at Queen Street West and Spadina Avenue, a tactic that indiscriminately confined protestors and passersby alike in the intersection during cold torrential rain for hours. It’s since been determined that this was ordered by TPS Superintendent Mark Fenton, who had not considered how to disengage from hundreds of people corralled inside a solid circle of cops in riot gear.

Fenton — who said he was following an order from the police chief to “take back the city” — is the only senior police official to face discipline under the Police Services Act for his conduct on that day. He was reprimanded and docked 30 days’ vacation. He appealed, lost, and had that penalty increased to 60 days.

While these failings are now well known, Mukherjee’s book reveals just how disconnected former police chief Bill Blair seemed from the ongoing operations. Mukherjee writes that Blair spent most of his time before the event telling the board to keep its nose out of “operational” matters, and that on one of the days in question, he found Blair alone in an anteroom watching the events unfold on CP24 from a tiny television. Meanwhile, there was a command centre down the hall with CCTV feeds from across the city and a live link to an integrated security unit managed by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) and conveniently located in Barrie.

No one may ever know the extent to which the RCMP was calling the shots (though to his credit, Blair seems to have halted the kettling). Ostensibly, they were in charge of security, but the former chair writes that his board was under the clear impression that the Toronto police chief at the time was solely or primarily responsible for security operations during the G20.

Let’s hope that those planning security for the upcoming G7 read Mukherjee’s book and find ways to avoid the mistakes made in Toronto in 2010.

Peaceful protest and dissent should be welcome in Canada.



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Tags: Annex · Editorial

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