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Toronto G20 - A Model for Repressing Mass Protest

Eleven years ago, the mass arrests at the Toronto G20 was a model for training police across North America in techniques for repressing peaceful mass protests. Led by the RCMP, the strategy was to arrest over one thousand people and later release them once their right to demonstrate had been eliminated. The Ontario Ombudsman called it the greatest violation of civil rights in Canadian history. Alok Mukherjee, at the time was Chair of the Toronto Police Services Board, joins Paul Jay on theAnalysis.news.

TRANSCRIPT:

Paul Jay

Hi, I’m Paul Jay. Welcome to theAnalysis.news. We’ll be back in just a few seconds with Alok Mukherjee. We’re going to talk about the 11th anniversary of the mass arrests during the Toronto G20 protests. Please don’t forget the donate button, subscribe button, sign up for the email list, and thanks to everybody that’s already donated.

Eleven years ago, on June 26th, 2010, the Toronto G20 brought together leaders of the world’s largest economies, minus China, of course, to call for an era of austerity and a drastic cutting back of public debt. Of course, that meant an attack on the social safety net, cutting back on public services, and support for working families. The protests against these meetings were met with the most vicious police violence against a mostly peaceful protest ever. More than twenty thousand people in the streets. But more than a thousand people were arrested and held for hours in the makeshift detention center. The Ontario Ombudsman issued a report after the events that condemned the use of the Public Works Protection Act, a piece of legislation that the Ombudsman called martial law. He called the arrest the, quote, “greatest violation of civil rights in Canadian history”.

I had my own note here. I think it’s a maybe perhaps an exaggeration, given crimes committed against native people, and the internment of Japanese people during World War Two. But at any rate, it was a heck of a violation of civil rights. Hundreds of people were also arrested under something called the Breach of the Queen’s peace. Toronto Police Chief, Blair, defended the use of a law that was developed to deal with fights outside British taverns, saying the arrests were in the criminal code.

In fact, this archaic Breach of the Queen’s Peace is common law, but there’s nothing in the criminal code that actually allows a person to be charged with anything. So it’s completely preposterous, you can be arrested for something you can’t be charged for. So then, what is that something? Well, here’s an example: if you were sitting peacefully in a park, surrounded by police, which is actually what happened during the G20, and you had your fingers up in the air in a peace sign, you could be arrested for breaking the peace and then you don’t get charged with anything. So the real purpose is to break up protests and then let people out of detention once the right to protest has been violated. What it amounts to is you don’t have a right to protest in Ontario and really in Canada.

In October 2019, the Supreme Court of Canada ruled that the Queen’s Peace Law, cannot be used against people who have not committed or are not about to commit a crime. That said, will this decision actually stop the use of this archaic law to arrest protesters in the future?

In October of 2020, ten years later, people who had been illegally detained during the G20, won a class action suit, that paid out a settlement of around 16.5 million Canadian dollars as compensation from the Toronto police force. But is this enough accountability to stop all this from happening again? So on the 11th anniversary of the Toronto G20, we take a look at the current state of the law, the question of accountability for these outrageous violations of people’s civil rights.

Now joining us to discuss all this is Alok Mukherjee. He was, most recently, a distinguished visiting professor in the Faculty of Arts at Ryerson University, Toronto. He’s the author with Tim Harper of the book ‘Excessive Force: Toronto’s Fight to Reform City Policing’. Mukherjee was also Chair of the Toronto Police Services Board, from 2005 to 2015. Now, this is the board that actually is the management board, the Toronto police report to, and during that time of the Toronto G20. The Toronto police, supposedly, were reporting to that civilian police board. This is not like a lot of cities, where the mayor just appoints the Chief of Police, and the police kind of aren’t all that accountable to anybody. But we’ll get into this question. Just how accountable were the Toronto police during this period?

Mukherjee also served as acting Chief Commissioner and Vice-Chair of the Ontario Human Rights Commission from 1992 to 1994. He was a member of the Ontario Civilian Police Services, now called the Ontario Police Commission from 94 to 97. So he has had a heck of a lot of experience with the issue of human rights, and the issue of policing, and police accountability. Thanks for joining us again, Alok.

Alok Mukherjee

You’re welcome, Paul. It’s a pleasure to be here and thank you for giving me this opportunity to reflect on one of the most serious policing events in the history of Toronto, certainly, and Canada.

Paul Jay

So, I would break this into two areas. One is the accountability of the police. Has there been any accountability for the police at any level? Now, I’m going to do a separate commentary, which will… I’m going to run alongside this interview, which gives more of the history. But we certainly uncovered, in our investigation, that the real command came from Ottawa. It was the RCMP, it was the RCMP reporting to the Privy Council, which report… Secretary of the Privy Council reports to Prime Minister Harper at the time. They were really the commanders of all of this, but Police Chief Blair took a lot of the heat. And certainly, it was the Toronto police in the streets, who were in fact, committing these acts against the protesters. Very quickly, for people who don’t remember or didn’t know what happened. Twenty thousand people were peacefully protesting. A couple of hundred broke off from the protest. A couple of police cars were torched, some windows were broken, and the police held back – let the police cars get attacked, let the windows get broken, and then these iconic images of burning police cars became the rationale for these mass arrests.

I have to say, in the United States, we’ve seen very similar things happen in various cities. Where in fact, in Baltimore, where I lived for a few years, after the death of Freddie Gray, and the mass protests broke out there, it was in fact, in that case, the police union that actually accused the Chief of Police of briefing the Baltimore police and telling them to allow the looting to continue, don’t stop it. So the looters will be the villains and will be the saviors. Something like that. Then there’s this drug store, pharmacy, CVS that gets burned down and that becomes the iconic image of that event and the justification for the police to then attack the protesters.

So Toronto, I think, helped set the model for that. So forget those two laws, for now, let’s get into that later. Do you think there’s been sufficient accountability of the individuals commanding the police both at the Toronto level or at the federal level, that would in any way, stop this from happening again? Because the only accountability, I guess, was that class action suit and while, they paid out millions of bucks that came from the police budget, it didn’t come from any of those cops.

Alok Mukherjee

No, the short answer is no. There should have been different entities held accountable for what happened on those two and a half – three days, on the streets of Toronto, in June 2010. As you mentioned, this was an event, G20 was a federal event, it happened because the Prime Minister designated the G20, an international event invoking a federal law. The Prime Minister chose the site of the event, the G20 meetings, convention center downtown in the heart of the city.

 I understand that a senior official, from the Prime Minister’s office, was actually, established, in a downtown office to supervise and liaise with the police. So the Prime Minister’s office and the Prime Minister is directly responsible for the event itself. The policing and security plans, again, under federal law, were the responsibility of the federal police, the RCMP. The planning committee was chaired by a senior official of the RCMP and then in the context of Canada’s strange jurisdictional relationships, and the state of policing, police officers were brought into this city from all over the country.

Paul Jay

Thousands of them.

Alok Mukherjee

Police services from Newfoundland to British Columbia. Police services with very different training, very different cultures, very different ways of doing things, were thrown together and given very minimal training, and then put on the roads and streets of the city. Surely, Toronto Police Service had a big role to play because the policing of the G20 involved two things. One was guarding, protecting, the international leaders who were here and who were staying at the Royal York Hotel, and who were meeting at the Convention Center. That was one piece.

The other was policing of the protests that you have mentioned. The 20,000 odd people, who turned up in the city, to protest against poverty, protest against climate change, protest against capitalism, protest against inequality, all kinds of things. And those protests were happening on the streets of Toronto. They were kept away, physically away, from getting anywhere near the convention center. So there are different accountability’s, I would say.

The provincial government also had a role to play, in as far as, the Public Works Protection Act, which is the Provincial Act, was invoked to create defenses around the convention center and downtown, and people were barred from getting near the fences. That was the provincial Act, the PWPA. It was the province that gave permission to the police to use certain policing equipment, like the LRAD, which was a very high-frequency sound device used to disperse police. So, the federal government, the Prime Minister personally, was involved. The provincial government was involved, in terms of providing, enabling laws, and regulations. And the RCMP and the entire policing community was involved in the planning of it: RCMP, Ontario police, provincial police, and all the police services who were part of the planning process, and the Toronto Police Service. So there were many opportunities.

Paul Jay

For people that don’t remember this or didn’t know about it. Let me just describe a little bit what was taking place. First of all, there were cameras almost everywhere where the protesters were marching, the city was blanketed in cameras, so everything the police did was on video. There was a command center set up in Barrie, Ontario, just north of Toronto, where the RCMP had these big television screens where they could see all these cameras and see what was going on and I believe there was a mirror of these television screens in the Toronto police headquarters, in the city as well. So everything was being seen.

Alok Mukherjee

Yeah, there’s a command center. I’ve been to that command center, in the Toronto police headquarters with a bank of television screens, huge television screens, where you could observe what is going on, on the streets of the city real-time.

Paul Jay

So, the police went wild knowing that what they were doing was on camera. They were indiscriminately smashing people in the head and the body with their batons. They would ride horseback and ride right over people. They were …  in the arrest they did something called kettling, once, in a massive rainstorm, where they surrounded a few hundred protesters and left them there in a driving rain. I know one of our daughters, who was just on her way to work, got caught in that. I mean, it was unimaginable how indiscriminate, and I don’t know another word than mad or wild. They even did a snatch and grab, where a van drove up to the people who were protesting outside the detention center, and grabbed this young woman, and dragged her into a van, threw her on the floor of the van, put her knee on her back. She had done nothing, except she was one of the people protesting. I mean, not only did they do this with impunity, they did it for no reason, because other than that hundred or so people that broke some windows and the police cars, which was over, and then those people dispersed, the people they were arresting hadn’t done anything.

Alok Mukherjee

As Chair of the Police Board at that time, all of that was shocking for sure, but what was disturbing, was that all of those actions were completely contradictory to the understanding that we had going in. Both I as Chair of the Board and the Mayor of the city, David Miller, had been very clear from… Once before the G20 happened, that lawful expression of dissent was a right, and the police will not only respect that right but facilitate. That’s why, for example, we designated Queen’s Park, in the city, as the area where people could gather and engage in free speech of their political and other opinions. So, that was a commitment that was given very, very clearly, unambiguously. So when the police acted in the way you just described, where they kicked a man from his wheelchair, dislodged his artificial limb, and wouldn’t help him get on the wheelchair, or when they threatened to arrest a woman who was blowing bubbles.

Paul Jay

Yeah, that video went viral all over the world.

Alok Mukherjee

Yes, and called it an assault, attempted assault on a police officer. When they removed their name tags. They’re clearly … in order so that they could not be identified when acting in these ways. They were clearly breaching the understanding that had been present going into the G20.

What became clearer, was that the understanding or the commitment given to the Board and the Mayor was actually meaningless – because as an international event approved and hosted by the Prime Minister, the Police Services Board had absolutely no authority, no oversight. Under those laws, under which such an event occurs, the Board is sidelined, and it is the federal government, the provincial government, and the police force.

Paul Jay

Alok the Board was sidelined, but was that legal? I thought the Board and the Toronto police actually had the authority, but Blair sort of ceded it to the RCMP.

Alok Mukherjee

The only authority the Board had was over the Toronto Police Service, but not on the entire event. And in fact, this is one of the things I’ve written in the book, Excessive Force, that we have a system of policing that is subject to civilian oversight. But in an event like this, that oversight is sidelined and part of the failure of accountability is that problem has not been remedied. Today, another Prime Minister can designate an event to be held here, and under the procedures and the protocols, RCMP will take over, and RCMP will lead the preparations, and the board will have no say.

Paul Jay

Now, just again, for people who don’t remember this, the role of the federal government and the RCMP was completely hidden. In fact, as far as I know, I’m the only journalist that was focusing on the chain of command, really being through the federal government and the RCMP. Everyone was suggesting I was into some conspiracy theory. But in fact, eventually, Blair actually admitted it in an interview to Carol Off, on the CBC Radio show As It Happens, that the chief of the Toronto police wasn’t in the chain of command. It was directly coming from the RCMP.

Alok Mukherjee

He was not a member of the planning committee.

Paul Jay

Did you know that?

Alok Mukherjee

Not until much later. Not until after.

Paul Jay

Now, how can they have a planning committee without the Toronto Chief of Police, and the Chair of the Services Board doesn’t know that the Chief of Police has been excluded?

Alok Mukherjee

I think it’s a combination of things. Part of it is Bill Blairs, the chief’s ego. He didn’t want it to be known that he was not directly involved in the planning. He would say that he was represented by one of his Deputy Chiefs. Interestingly, the Deputy Chief was in the planning process, was the one who was trained in national security and intelligence. That tells you what the focus of the planning was.

Paul Jay

Right.

Alok Mukherjee

Not public order, policing, or protest, but national security.

Paul Jay

Which in the domestic context means suppressing dissent. Now, is that the same deputy who was on the advisory council of the FBI College? No, that’s another important piece to this, though, that one of the Toronto Deputies was part of the FBI college committee, I think you just told me off-camera he eventually became chair of it. And I’m quite convinced, although I can’t prove it, or maybe, you know, that this to a large extent, where some of this came from. There was a plan, I think, to train some of the North American police forces on how to suppress mass dissent.

Alok Mukherjee

Yeah, it’s not only that, Deputy Chief, Paul, it’s considered to be a tremendous achievement to have attended the FBI Academy. And people on their way up in policing in Canada went there for training or did they get training in national security, tactical policing, and so on? And I have argued in my book that Toronto, Canada, is not the only one. There are places all over the world who send their senior officials to the FBI Academy for training. And I have argued in my book that there’s a tremendous integration in policing across the world.

Paul Jay

This is like the role that’s called the School of the Americas plays on the military side where the Latin American right-wing government sends their generals.

Alok Mukherjee

They have the International Association of Chiefs of Police. They have the FBI, Academy alumni. They use similar tactics, similar equipment, similar strategies, this tremendous integration, and we can talk about that when we talk about policing of protests. Because whether there’s another G20 or not, we know that there are protests going on. Logging against logging in British Columbia, over climate change, we have seen huge rallies all over the province. The other day there was news in Ottawa Citizen that when the Black Lives Matter movement was happening after George Floyd’s murder, the Canadian military intelligence was monitoring the Black Lives Matter.

Paul Jay

The Canadian Black Lives Matter or American?

Alok Mukherjee

The Canadian Black Lives Matter was being monitored by military intelligence. So there is tremendous policing, the tactics, and approaches that come from a commonplace.

Paul Jay

Yeah, I think this is a big part of the story that I think the G20, but also some of the events that took place at some of the Democratic Party conventions around the same time. They were training the police forces on how to suppress mass protests because you can’t wait till there’s a mass protest you want to suppress and never have done it.  There’s a tremendous amount of coordination.

Alok Mukherjee

It’s simply a very serious issue that deserves more attention. Because the focus obviously tends to be on individual acts of police brutality and use of excessive force when a life is lost. But, you know, throughout this year of the pandemic, I’ve been keeping a daily log of these stories from around the world. The most frequent policing that is going on in-country, after country, after country is the suppression of protest. Sometimes the protests arise, as in the Black Lives Matter matter, out of policing events, but at other times they are about government laws, they’re about policies, they’re about social, economic, political rights, but they’re going on in Colombia. Protests against taxation becomes a policing event. In Greece, protest against sending police forces, stationing police forces in university campuses becomes the protest that is further policed. Come to Myanmar, wherever you go, there are protests going on, and there is policing happening of those protests.

Paul Jay

In Baltimore during the Freddie Gray protests, there was one night where maybe 70 or 80, at most, protesters were violating a curfew in the Park Square outside of city hall, sitting around playing guitar, talking to each other. But technically, they were violating the curfew. Hundreds of police, perhaps three or four hundred, at least, in military-style formation, marching up surrounding the park – green areas it’s not even a park -maybe half a dozen or a dozen military-style vehicles, armored kind of vehicles, pull up, and at some point they started marching, smashing their shields, and clear the park. It clearly was a training exercise because these people were sitting around doing nothing. There was no rationale other than to give the police the experience of doing it.

Alok Mukherjee

The other thing is, well, I think it is more than training. I think it tells us about the direction that policing is taking into this political, economic, social context. A few days ago in Halifax, as throughout other cities of Canada, there were protests in solidarity with the Palestinian people. In Halifax, the police, how did the police respond to or break up the protest? By ticketing people for violating the social distancing laws. That they were, you know, too close, there were too many people, that it was unsafe, in terms of the pandemic, and they ticketed people to break up the protest.

Last weekend in Toronto, there’s a tent city. There were several tent cities, where poor people, homeless people live. One would expect the city to use its bylaw inspectors to deal with that if the city doesn’t want them to tent. No. Mounted police went in to destroy the tents. So I think we have to be very mindful that what we saw in G20, which was suppression of protests on political, social, economic issues, is the policing that is happening today and not as a training exercise, but as a political choice by the government.

Paul Jay

Well, I’m in training exercise because they plan to use it. It’s not just training for training, training because they plan. They’re expecting as the economy gets worse, more and more mass protests and they’re going to use that training.

Alok Mukherjee

Yeah, yeah. In Halifax, Nova Scotia, the policing of lobster fishing by indigenous fishermen to curtail their right, a treaty, right. Because the white fishermen don’t like it. And the police act on behalf of the white fishermen, against the indigenous fishermen. So it’s a very deliberate process of policing that we are observing.

Paul Jay

Yeah, I agree with that. Let’s go back to the G20. On the issue of accountability, at the time, in the days following the G20, there was a lot of calls for a public inquiry to really get into, you know, who ordered it and why there was such a violation of civil rights. There was no public inquiry. There was a minor discipline for cops that took off their badges. I believe a superintendent who was one of the main on the ground commanders and ordered a lot of, I should say, implemented, I think, the orders from the RCMP, but he ordered the kettling and the arrests, I believe his discipline was he lost 60 days of vacation time. Now, what the police did was illegal. It wasn’t just like a breach of rights. It was actually assault. It was assault and battery. You could even say kidnaping, in some cases. Nobody was charged criminally, no public inquiry. All there was, you could say something came out of that class-action suit, but even after, I was quite impressed with the Ombudsman’s report and some of the other reports that came out, they were pretty good at critiquing what happened, but nothing was done.

Alok Mukherjee

This is an important point, and I have a chapter on accountability and excessive force, and I call it the Symbolic Illusion of Accountability. Because we have in Canada, and I suppose in other countries also, these elaborate agencies, the Ombudsman, the OIPRD (the Ontario Independent Police Review Director), the SIU (Special Investigation Unit), which, by the way, is the only oversight agency that has the power to lay criminal charges against police officers. We have the Ontario Police Commission, so there’s no shortage of oversight mechanisms to hold police accountable. But when we look at the outcome of the work of all these very busy agencies, it is minuscule, and that’s why I call it an Illusion of Accountability, basically, to create the impression in the public mind that police are held to account, and if they are not charged to the degree that they should be, it is because they are following the rules and the law and the training. So it’s an illusory system, it serves the political interest, it doesn’t serve the public interest.

So now going back to the G20, you’re quite right. That Superintendent, he was the on-site commander when kettling happened, and he was the only one who was charged with misconduct. He made a really interesting statement, which is relevant to some of what you’ve said. As part of his defense, he said he was carrying out what he thought were the wishes of the Chief of Police. That he had met the Chief earlier in the day, and the Chief expressed his frustration, why more people … more heads were not being broken. Blair denied that he ever said such a thing. But the superintendent presented that as his defense, that he was carrying out what he understood to be the wishes of the Chief of Police.

Paul Jay

That doesn’t ring … I’m no fan of Blair, but we know the orders weren’t coming from Blair.

Alok Mukherjee

He had no … I mean, one could say that since the kettling happened, the demonstrations, the protests were happening on the streets of Toronto. I mean, make a separation in your mind, between two types of policing. One is the policing that is happening, happening around in the vicinity of the convention center – where G20 is taking place. And the other is the regular policing of the streets, of the city: Queen Street, King Street, that is away from that site. And the incidents that happened, for which, that caused controversy, in Queen’s Park, at the corner of Queen and Spadina, where the kettling happened. One could argue that they came under the Police chief, Toronto Police Chief’s jurisdiction.

Paul Jay

But he was. I mean, from what I understand from what happened there, it was all coming out of the command center of Barrie, that Blair was sitting around in his office twiddling his thumbs during all this.

Alok Mukherjee

Yes. That’s what we have argued, that the orders were coming from the RCMP, OPP headquarters in Barrie. They have denied. There was also… It was also said that Julian Fantino who was the OPP commissioner at that time, commissioner of the Ontario Provincial Police, and a member of the RCMP-led committee, actually was on the streets of Toronto. It was never conclusively proved, but it certainly was very much in the news at that time on that evening, that he had been seen there.

So it’s a very murky situation. I mean, this is part of how they avoided accountability. The situation became so murky that lines of command, RCMP, just took no responsibility whatsoever.

Paul Jay

Afterwards!

Alok Mukherjee

OPP took no responsibility whatsoever. RCMP had an in-house action taken report done. And in that report, the employees of the RCMP, the staff of RCMP, concluded that RCMP had done everything properly.

Paul Jay

What a surprise. Who would have expected a report like that?

Alok Mukherjee

Exactly. Exactly. So there were no systems of accountability. Some of us had approached members of parliament from the opposition parties, urged them that through the parliament’s standing committee on public safety, they should be looking at not the incidents of police violence on the streets of Toronto, but the bigger questions of the role of the Prime Minister’s office, the role of the RCMP. That’s what you mean by an independent inquiry. The members of parliament from the opposition parties did not have the courage, I believe, to push forward. They may have asked a few questions. Prime Minister washed his hands and said he had absolutely nothing to do with it and RCMP was … nobody did an investigation into the role of the RCMP, which the parliament could have done. No one else could have done it. The government could have done. Of course, the government wouldn’t do. There was a small piece of work that the provincial government did, and Dalton McGuinty was the premier. He asked the then Chief Justice, Roy McMurtry, to do and take a look at the role of the province. And one of the things that Mr. McMurtry pointed out, was that the regulation for the fencing that the province had enacted, was based on an obsolete piece of law. The Public Works Protection Act was enacted during the work time to protect power stations, bridges, you know, installations that had some defense importance, that might have been targeted by a quote-unquote, enemy, and that act was invoked to protect the convention center. So now, after Mr. McMurtrys finding the Minister lost his job, Mr. Bartolucci was moved out of the cabinet, because apparently, he had asked the cabinet to approve this regulation without even understanding, even reading what he was being asked by the police to do.

Paul Jay

Let me just add a note to this, so people get what this act allowed. I can’t remember the number of feet, but it essentially allows the police to apprehend anyone with an x… How many feet?

Alok Mukherjee

Twenty.

Paul Jay

Twenty feet. Yeah, except the way the Act works, it could be any public building, and there’s public buildings everywhere. So essentially they use this to create martial law in the entire downtown Toronto.

Alok Mukherjee

Right. So the piece of accountability that came out of it was Mr. Bartolucci losing his job and the Public Works Protection Act being replaced by a new legislation called the Security for Courts, Electricity Generation Facilities, and Nuclear Facilities. So the Act now is more specific. It is to be used to secure courtrooms, courthouses, electricity generating facilities, and nuclear facilities, as opposed to that…

Paul Jay

So does that mean, they couldn’t use it the way they used it previously?

Alok Mukherjee

That means they couldn’t use it the way they used it at G20. So that’s the other use of little accountability that happened.

Paul Jay

OK, well, let’s look at the other piece of legislation, this Breach of the Queen’s Peace because that’s the craziest law of them all. So, the way it was prior to the Supreme Court decision, a police officer could detain anyone they thought was or were about to, quote-unquote, breach the peace. And if I understand that correctly, there’s practically no definition of what that even means, breach the peace. So as long as in the opinion of the officer… so they can use it for just about anybody any time. Now, they don’t get charged with anything because quote breaching the peace in itself isn’t a criminal act.

Alok Mukherjee

Right.

Paul Jay

But it means in protest, they can simply grab as many people as they want, detain them, and then let them go again. So is it your understanding, does that Supreme Court decision in 2019, which was actually a case about some guy with a flag named Fleming marching down a street, would that decision stop the police in Toronto or other Canadian cities doing this again? Or is it murky enough that the police could still do it? Because, you know, it’s common law. It’s not like they overturned the law.

Alok Mukherjee

Yeah, common law is based on conventional practice, right. There’s no code that they must follow. The cynical side of me will say to you that the Supreme Court decision is just too vague. Police officers are very good at articulating justification and they will find another way. I gave you the example of the Palestinian solidarity protest in Halifax, where they used the pandemic law or order against large gatherings, to break up the protest. I gave you the example of the tent city in Toronto. They broke it up because the city said there are safety issues. So common law is broad enough that, and you may remember that the Premier of Ontario, Mr. Ford, not too long ago, was going to tell and give police the power to stop anybody on the street, to check whether they were wearing their mask, whether they were walking in their neighborhood, or were too far from here, arbitrary detention. Mr. Ford was going to give up, except that there was such a push back that he limited the scope of it.

Paul Jay

Even the police didn’t want to do it.

Alok Mukherjee

Even the police didn’t want to do it.

Paul Jay

They told him they weren’t going to start stopping people in the streets like that. It was pretty interesting. The cops didn’t want that kind of authority.

Alok Mukherjee

Yeah, they have mechanisms already that they can use to circumvent the restrictions from the Supreme Court. So I’m not very sanguine that it’ll… take the anti-logging protests in D.C., the police, all the diplomacy needed to do, was to get a court injunction against trespassing and the RCMP was in there. It’s a political issue. The cutting down of very old-growth trees, it’s not a crime issue.

Paul Jay

Do you think the class-action suit that was successful against the Toronto police force, as I said, 16.5 million dollars paid out to various people that were detained? And there were also some agreements that they had to change some of the policing, they had to apologize in some way. Will it be effective in any way?

Alok Mukherjee

No. I actually did a podcast on that class action settlement, and I made a distinction between accountability as these agencies and governments understand it, and accountability as the public understands it. So for the police, police service, police services board, and the city, accountability meant managing the risk and limiting the liability. So pay off 16.5 million dollars divided up among the claimants. What does that money come from? Money comes from, not from the police operating budget, but there is a legal indemnity fund in the city, managed by the city, and different agencies of the city, the police, the library, the hydro, etc, etc, they contribute a certain amount annually into this fund and they then insurer, in fact, no private insurer will insure the police or some of these other agencies, DDC, so it is a self-insurance, and there’s a team of people in the city who act as the insurer. And they at an arm’s length decide how much of that money is to be used and I can tell you that the bulk of it is used in matters involving the police. So the 16.5 million dollars is yours and my money, from our property tax that goes there. So no skin off the police’s nose. It did not reduce the police budget by 16.5 million dollars for that year.

Now, what else did they, in terms of managing risk and limiting liability? The police Chief said that they are sorry for any mistakes that may have been made. Not admission of criminal action, or breach of people’s charter rights, or civil rights, or anything. Any mistakes that may have been made. Sorry. That’s not accountability. Third, the Chief of Police gave an undertaking that in any such future events, the police will make the best effort to avoid using the same practices that they did. That’s not an ironclad guarantee to change anything. So those are the three key components of how the police board, police service, and the city discharge their responsibility.

What the public wants is that people should take responsibility. They should accept that something was … harm was done, injury was done that was unlawful. Public wants restorative justice as part of it. Public wants appropriate compensation as a token or symbol of taking responsibility.

Paul Jay

At the time when you were Chair of the Police Services Board, you commissioned a judge to do a report. If I remember correctly, he was actually critical of your Board because he thought you could have done more. That you thought there was a war, a wall between operations and policy, that you couldn’t have gotten involved in some of those decisions and he thought perhaps you could have. But also, once it was over, why didn’t the Board fire Blair? And maybe some of that superintendent and some others, couldn’t the Board have done more to force some accountability?

Alok Mukherjee

Yeah, two points. Just this morning they did say that the Board’s interpretation of the policy Operation Separation was outdated. That it was not consistent with what the legislature had in mind when it enacted the Police Services Act. It was a very helpful conclusion by the judge. It’s the only legal quote-unquote, judicial interpretation of the legislation because our interpretation of the policy operation dynamic was very much the interpretation that was used by boards and police services across the country. We were not the outliers. So we acted according to that interpretation. The judge pointed out that we were wrong. In fact, outside the whole oversight committee, therefore, was wrong. The good thing that has come out of his review is that if you look at the policies that are being written today, for instance, on body-worn cameras or gathering and interpretation of race-based data, you will see much stronger policies being written. The board still does not get involved in operations.

So then that brings me to your second question about why the Board could not have fired. The Board would have, at least some of us on the Board would have dearly like to have done that. The Police Services Act sets out a very narrow ground on which a Chief of Police can be fired. And I took the opinion of our legal counsel and was told that to prove that players’ conduct fell within that narrow frame of the Act, would be an extremely difficult task to do. It will result in a wrongful dismissal charge and the Board will be in litigation with Blair for years. The easier course of action, of course, was to then terminate his contract. Buy him out. I explored that possibility also, but again, it fell through because, I’ve described it at some length in my book, The Marriage of Fear, and Mayor Rob Ford, at that time, and our premier, Doug Ford, who was then a city councilor, they were of the view that given Blair’s popularity in the city and the troubles that the Ford brothers were already in, if I terminated the contract, there will be a political problem for them, and they didn’t need any more political passes. So, in narrow Law and the political reality got in the way.

Now, what about the other officers, the superintendent, or the police constables who remove their badges? Again the Three Services Act has taken away from the Board the right of any role in discipline. And Board members have expressed frustration, in public, that we have police officers who are not to be walking around in those uniforms, but there’s nothing in it. By contrast, on the opposite, there are police officers who are not only walking around in uniforms, they are growing their full salary, gaining seniority, and not coming to work because they are suspended with pay. But the Board has no ability, unlike the American system. Well, you know, we have seen Kim Porter who shot and killed Daunte Wright, resign two days later. The Chief resigned also, or else they’d have been fired. Canadian laws having to do with policing, do not give us that authority.

Paul Jay

I have to say, that’s still very rare in the United States that, that happens.

Alok Mukherjee

Absolutely. And it is only happening as a result of the protest movements.

Paul Jay

And back to mass protests, yeah. Because of the protest movement. For people who don’t know Chief Blair, who allowed the RCMP to run the show, covered their ass by making it look like he had done it, and did a great service to the RCMP by taking all the heat, ended up as a Cabinet Minister, and still is a Cabinet Minister in today’s liberal government, responsible for public security. Now, does the RCMP answer to him?

Alok Mukherjee

Yes, RCMP answers to him.

Paul Jay

What a joke. He covers their ass at the G20 and then he winds up… You got to, this is a whole nother conversation at some point, but the power of the RCMP and the security services doesn’t get talked about very much.

Alok Mukherjee

Yeah, there’s a piece I should mention since we are talking about accountability. It is the same Stephen Harper, prime minister, who weakened the accountability systems that deal with the RCMP. It’s called the Public Complaints and Review Commission of the RCMP. Now, they are the only entity that are at an arm’s length, that investigates complaints of misconduct by RCMP members and the only thing they can do is make a recommendation to the commissioner. And Harper changed the oversight legislation, and some of us had again gone up to the parliament and expressed concern that the government was weakening accountability.

A couple of things that he did in the new legislation. The Public Complaints Commission can say to the RCMP commissioner, we need this and such documents as part of our investigation. It is up to the commissioners to determine whether that’s a relevant request or not and whether to grant or deny the request. So, first of all, the commissioner is the gatekeeper of access to information by this independent commission.

Second, the commission can make its findings and recommend them to the commissioner. The commissioner is expected to respond to the commission on whether they accept or decline the recommendation. There are recommendations, there are reports from the commission that are sitting on the commissioner’s desk for two or three years. The commissioner hasn’t felt the urgency or the courtesy to tell the commission whether she accepts or doesn’t accept the recommendations. And here is the oversight Minister who is not firing the commissioners, who holds her office at the pleasure of the Prime Minister. Even after they’ve signed a memorandum of understanding with the Public Complaints Commission that the commissioner will respond within six months, they completely ignored their own commitment. So by design, by governments design, on the one hand, there’s the illusion of accountability, there’s this Public Complaints and Review Commission, and there’s the reality that the real power rests with the commissioner who answers to the Minister and the Prime Minister, not to the commission.

Paul Jay

So much for Canadian democracy.

Alok Mukherjee

So much for Canadian democracy.

Paul Jay

All right. Thanks very much, Alok. This is just the beginning of this conversation, so we’ll do it again soon, and we’ll talk more about what some other models of policing might look like.

Alok Mukherjee

But, yes, I think we should talk about different policing, and what are some of the implications, and some of the new ways of imagining public safety, and community well-being.

Paul Jay

We’ll do that soon. All right, thank you. And thank you very much for joining us on theAnalysis.news. Please don’t forget the donate button, subscribe, and all the rest.

THE END

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One Comment

  1. Mukherjee criticizes all levels, but doesn’t take personal responsibility.
    How could he not know what the Toronto cops’ involvement in planning was (or wasn’t)? He was chair of the police board, fer crissakes, and said nothing critical as I recall.
    City Council, including ‘progressives’, even voted to commend the cops for their behaviour.
    (ughh Rob Ford wasn’t mayor, BTW, until December of that year.)

    But at least Mukherjee is critical now. And good that he mentioned Julian Fantino, who I’ve always suspected was the G20’s eminence grise. He had all the connections — head of the provincial police, former Toronto (and London, Ont.) thuggish police chief, and soon after Stephen Harper’s MP and minister — and I doubt it’s coincidental that the G20 command centre was in OPP HQ territory near Orillia (also convenient for the G8 in Huntsville).

    Bill Blair should have been run out of town, not elected to Parliament and made a minister — in charge of the RCMP, disgustingly.

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