It looks like the courts, the mainstream media, and maybe (dare I suggest?) the government are finally starting recognize that something went severely wrong with the policing of the G20 protests this past summer. Recently, the Ontario Ombudsman concluded that the police were, in fact, vastly overstepping their bounds, and that the conduct of the Integrated Security Unit was, in fact, in violation of Canadian law. Meanwhile, a report from the Dominion Media Coop has uncovered some disturbing evidence suggesting that the violations of civil liberties were not the unfortunate excesses of a few bad apples but may well have been official department policy. Perhaps most encouragingly, the first arrest has been made in connection with the events of last June. The Special Investigations Unit of the RCMP has arrested Babak Andalib-Goortani and charged him with assault with a weapon. And well they should. Despite the self-serving doubts of Toronto Police Service Chief Bill Blair, there is credible evidence that Nobody was assaulted. Goortani will have his day in court, and if convicted will do time for a violent crime. Canadians who value the rule of law should be happy about this, but it is important to note that this does not come anywhere close to enough.
One of the most common demands coming from those harmed by the police actions in Toronto is for Bill Blair to resign. I myself expressed that sentiment a while ago. For somebody in such a position of power, resignation is the best we can reasonably hope for. But tonight I’m not going to write about reasonable hopes. I’m going to write about what justice demands.
Imagine you are on your way home from work one day where there wasn’t a major global summit going on. While minding your own business, you are suddenly set upon by five burly men who tackle you to the ground, spray a lachrymatory agent in your eye, hit you a few times with batons, then tie your hands behind your back, throw you in the back of a van and drag you away. You spend hours in the van without food or water, then they drag you out of it and down into somebody’s basement. They leave you locked in a small room with forty other people who have been similarly snatched. You spend over a day down there, your arms still cuffed, with only a small glass of water to drink and a single small sandwich to eat. At one point, they drag you into a nearby room and force you to take your clothes off. They eventually let you go with no explanation, but they warn you that if you are ever seen near where you were grabbed again, they are going to do the whole thing over, except worse.
If these men were ever identified, what would you consider reasonable vindication for what they had done to you? Even the most forgiving people would probably insist that these men do some jail time, and rightly so. I’m not a lawyer, but I’m pretty sure that little story contains, at the very least, possible charges of assault with a weapon, unlawful confinement, sexual assault, and uttering threats. Most people would agree that for such abuses, these men deserve to spend some time in prison.
So what, I ask you, makes the situation any different if the men are wearing police uniforms? The obvious answer is that we allow the police to use force on those who pose a threat to our society, and so we cannot prosecute them for the use of said force the way we might prosecute a gang of random thugs. The problem with this logic is that the vast majority of people who were arrested during the G20 posed no threat to anybody. Peaceful protesters, innocent bystanders, and media personnel were all arrested regardless of their involvement in any dangerous or unlawful behavior.
In such a situation, the fact that we have entrusted the police to be agents of state coercion does nothing for the officers who have misused it. In fact, it considerably weakens their case. In entrusting the sole right to use of force to the police, society demands that they exercise it sparingly, judiciously, and only when absolutely necessary. If no such necessity exists, then what would have been an arrest reverts to what it would have been had it been committed by anybody else: an assault.
In addition to being liable for the bodily harm caused to the victim of their assault, the officers involved in any illegitimate arrest are liable to society for an egregious violation of the public trust. At the very least, this should result in the loss of their badge. Somebody who has demonstrated that they cannot handle the right to use force on others should certainly not retain it. If the violation is sufficiently bad, then the punishment should also involve further criminal penalties beyond what a civilian would face for the same actions.
What exactly do I mean by “sufficiently bad”? Well, let’s go back to the scenario I envisioned. Imagine that similar assaults were occurring all over the city on the same night that you were attacked, and that they were all planned and orchestrated by a small group of people who had the absolute loyalty of the thugs tho attacked you. Surely you would want the organizers to be punished as well. You would likely want to see them have the most severe punishment of all.
Well, the countless assaults that took place over the city of Toronto did have an organizer, and his name was (you probably guessed it already) Bill Blair. He asked for the suspension of civil liberties facilitated through the Public Works Protection Act. He was likely involved in approving the training materials which instructed officers to indiscriminately search and detain people. And he was fully aware of the number of arrests that was taking place. Yet, even when the smoke cleared, he did nothing about it. He made no apologies in the weeks to come, and in fact seemed smugly satisfied with the excesses of his officers. When the Ontario Ombudsman came asking for assistance in his investigation, Blair refused to provide him with any materials in a transparent attempt to cover his tracks. Bill Blair is culpable for what happened in Toronto, and for that he should see trial for conspiracy to commit assault, and intimidation. If convicted, he should spend time behind bars.
I recognize that this will never happen, but I think that fact reveals something rather unfortunate about the institutions which oversee our police forces. Bill Blair was tried in the court of public opinion, when most of the facts concerning his wrongdoing were not widely known. As a result of the public’s knee-jerk support for his actions, no politician can suggest that a case be brought forward against him. Criminal cases, however, should not be subject to the caprices of election campaigns. A criminal conspiracy happened in Toronto six months ago, and those implicated should be brought to justice.