David Miller and Our Need to Know
Torontonians woke up this morning wanting answers.
Most of the protests this weekend were peaceful. Most of the protesters this weekend were peaceful. And yet.
Mass arrests. Detainees denied water for hours and kept in cuffs for more than a day. Assaulted journalists. Toronto’s first ever use of tear gas.
Some of these things seemed directly related to the small contingent of violent Black Bloc protesters who lashed out on Saturday, destroying police and private property and terrorizing many in the streets, including fellow protesters. Many did not. Sunday evening on Queen Street at Spadina police officers charged a crowd that was behaving peacefully, with no visible signs of aggression, as people finished singing the national anthem and while many were attempting to do nothing more egregious than sit down, calmly, in the middle of the road. The explanation that’s been offered: police had detained aggressive protesters with projectiles a few minutes earlier; they were making their way towards the intersection at the time. Further, police had received information that Black Bloc protesters were in the crowd as well as “people who chose not to disassociate themselves” from them.
As explanations go, this is sorely lacking. If police had evidence that the crowd was in imminent danger of being overrun with violence they should say so. And if they didn’t, then their actions seem, right now, entirely out of proportion to the concerns they are describing. Similarly, the deplorable conditions detainees have described in the Eastern Avenue facility are not consonant with proper regard for people’s rights. We need to know more.
Torontonians woke up this morning wanting answers, and by holding a press conference at City Hall this morning David Miller implied that he might provide some.
In a stunning moment of denial, a stunning moment of incomprehension, or a stunning failure of courage, David Miller betrayed Toronto today by failing to call for an independent inquiry into security and police procedures during the G20.
Calling for an inquiry is not a confession of wrongdoing but an admission that there are pressing matters—matters whose significance extends beyond specific individuals involved and to the broader community—which demand concerted, coherent, independent, and public investigation and analysis.
The mass detention of several hundred Torontonians on Sunday, some of whom are journalists and some of whom apparently were passersby who were just trying to get home, is something that concerns us all. When many who were held at the Eastern Avenue detention facility report being denied access to phones, lawyers, and water, that is something that concerns us all. These events are pertinent to everyone who falls under the authority of those who took such actions—which is to say, everyone who was in Toronto yesterday. A case-by-case accounting, via complaints lodged by individuals who allege they were mistreated by police, is necessary but insufficient. We need an accounting as a city too.
But we cannot actually have an accounting at the level of municipal government. Councillor Adam Vaughan (Ward 20, Trinity-Spadina) said that among the officers involved in the incident Sunday evening were members of the OPP, who do not report to the Toronto Police Service. We therefore need a public inquiry (which can be called for by the federal or any provincial or territorial government) with a wide scope, able to fully investigate events.
“I thought the Toronto Police Service acted with admirable professionalism in dealing with those violent protesters,” Miller said this morning. And they did. That says nothing about how police (perhaps of several services) dealt with entirely non-violent protesters. From all appearances police exercised far less restraint Sunday than they did Saturday, which is striking because the violent protest was on Saturday, not Sunday. Police actions on Sunday appear, from the outside, to have been pre-emptive and motivated by fear rather than any imminent threats.
We may be wrong. Appearances can be deceptive. Bill Blair this morning said that “It is a little bit frustrating to hear it suggested that a bunch of innocent people standing at a bus stop were caught up in this. It’s simply not true.” Right now there are many conflicting interpretations of how well or poorly the G20 summit was handled. Meanwhile, Dalton McGuinty is refusing to answer questions about the expanded powers police were granted for the summit. That’s why we need an inquiry, which will help us all better understand what happened, and will help both politicians and police authorities understand what changes may need to be made in security procedures for the future.
Amnesty International is calling for one. Street medics who provided care this weekend are calling for one. So is the Toronto Star.
Torontonians woke up this morning wanting answers. Torontonians deserve answers, and we deserve a mayor who will fight to get them.
Photos by Christopher Drost/Torontoist.