In all the excitement about Occupy Wall Street evictions, I almost forgot to share this. On the Monday after the Toronto G20 police riot, my friend and I were stopped on our way to the anti-police brutality demonstration in front of the police headquarters by a group of uniformed police officers, who stopped us and searched our backpacks despite our lack of consent. I filed a complaint with the Ontario Independent Police Review Department, and they took the time to interview me about the incident. Two weeks ago, I received the official report resulting from the complaint. Here’s the summary:
“After careful investigation, the OIPRD has found that there is an insufficient body of evidence to establish on reasonable grounds that misconduct, as defined by the Police Services Act, occurred in this complaint.”
That’s the bad news. There is, however, a small vindication on page 3 of the report (posted below), which substantitates my claim that the search as I described it was illegal. The issue was a lack of evidence. I suppose I can’t be too surprised or disappointed by the result. Proper jurisprudence says that even thuggish police officers can’t be punished without proper evidence, and I neglected to collect any such evidence. I’m a bit upset with myself on this count. Part of me expected such treatment (or worse) on the way to the rally, and I should have known enough to document it. This report seems to suggest that, had I done so, I may have seen some vindication from OIPRD. Thinking back to the incident, I think the main reason that I failed to record the search or collect the officers’ names and badge numbers was that I was intimidated: There were five of them and two of us, and they were all much, much bigger than us, and I had seen videos of some pretty nasty violent incidents coming from such situations over the past weekend. I think the officers effectively used that fear to their advantage.
So the moral of the story is this: If you are subjected to illegal searches or worse from police officers, keep your head. Film the incident and collect names and badge numbers. Be polite but insistent-it is your right to record the details of any interaction with the police. Afterwards, file a complaint. My experience suggests that if you’re proactive, you can actually win after the fact.