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Thursday, May 17, 2012

Toronto Police as Aggressors at G-20 Summit

Police employees “ignored basic rights,” jailed people illegally, used excessive force and escalated violence at protests surrounding the G-20 meeting in Toronto in 2010, according to the Office of the Independent Police Review Director. The report could lead to charges against police employees and strengthen the hand of civil lawsuits filed against the police department. Because the police employees acted with an attitude of impunity, anything less than stiff prison sentences would be insufficient as a deterrent.

After a small group of violent protesters went on a “looting rampage” through Toronto’s shopping district without being confronted by police, the department’s deputy chief ordered his subordinates on the force to “take back the streets.” The incident commander in charge at the time told investigators that the deputy chief “wanted the streets that had been made unsafe by the terrorists that were attacking our city to be made safe again by restoring order.” This statement itself evinces a problematic attitude.

Specifically, looters are not terrorists. To claim otherwise demonstrates distorted perspective, which in turn points to an underlying psychological bias. Although not against the looters, the police nonetheless sprung into action, arresting peaceful protesters and even passers-by.  Other people were arrested in homes and other residences without proper warrants.

According to the report, the deputy’s orders were followed in ways that not only broke the law but often involved excessive force. The attitude of the police employees includes a presumption of impunity with regard to using excessive force. This is the most damning aspect of the report, for such an attitude is extremely difficult to change.  That the people arrested were held for hours in cells without toilets, food, or even water attests to possible sadism in the department.

Given the underlying attitude, the culprits on the police force must be severely punished for their aggression or they will be enabled to commit further abuses as though with the impunity they assume is the case. That decent police employees put their lives on the line to protect even citizens they don’t like does not mean that the sort of attitude described here should be tolerated and enabled rather than firmly thwarted by firings and stiff prison sentences. With the privilege of using force legally comes great responsibility. The penalties for acting at odds with it should be severe, given the significant possibility of undetectable abuse (given the huge differential in power). In other words, police employees are well aware of this differential, and given human nature, even this awareness can be dangerous.


Ian Austen, “CanadianPolice Violated Laws in G-20 Sweep, Inquiry Finds,” The New York Times, May 16, 2012.