Friday, July 2, 2010

Toronto police questioned after summit arrests

TORONTO (AP) -- Civil liberties groups called for an investigation of police conduct Tuesday following the arrest of 900 people during the massive and sometimes violent protests at the global economic summits over the weekend.

The Canadian Civil Liberties Association called for a public inquiry Tuesday into security operations at the G-20 and G-8 summits, which resulted in the largest mass arrests in Canadian history and included the use of tear gas and rubber bullets on protesters.

"We have police brutality, illegal searches, arbitrary detentions, people being asked all sorts of questions and being harassed," Nathalie Des Rosiers, general council for the Canadian Civil Liberties Association, said Tuesday. "It's unconstitutional, it's illegal and it should not happen."

The group, which had 50 human rights monitors at the protests to observe police behavior, also called for an apology to those claiming their civil liberties were trampled. It said in a statement that police conduct was "at times, disproportionate, arbitrary and excessive."

Amnesty International backed the demand for an independent review.

Toronto Police Chief Bill Blair said Tuesday that less than half of the 900 arrested will be charged and many have been released. He said a police task force has been set up to review law enforcement actions during the summit.

Blair commended police for showing restraint and said no protesters suffered any serious injuries.

He said many protesters "refused to disperse so it was necessary to detain them to prevent that breach of the peace." He said three warnings were given to people not involved in the protests to leave the area Sunday night.

Police were prepared for possible large-scale trouble and destruction. The government spent $900 million on security for both the G-8 summit held in Huntsville, Ontario, and the G-20 in Toronto. Almost 10-foot-high (3-meter) steel fences were erected in the downtown Toronto core to protect the center where G-20 leaders were meeting.

More than 19,000 security officers were deployed in both host cities. Before Saturday's mayhem, critics called Toronto a police state.

A protest of 10,000 organized mainly by labor groups turned violent on Saturday, caused mainly by a few hundred police described as anarchists. They went on a rampage, smashing storefront windows with baseball bats, torching four police cruisers and prompting police to fire tear gas for the first time ever in the Toronto Police force's history.

Police slapped plastic zip-tie handcuffs on protesters - many of whom say they were rallying peacefully - and escorted them to a makeshift detention center across town.

Several detainees denied being involved in the violence. They say they were held in the chilly, crowded detention center for up to 23 hours before being released without charge. Others complained of incarceration without access to a lawyer, threats from police and unheeded requests for water.

Jeremy Fischer told The Associated Press he was at the protests as a certified paramedic to help protesters who might get injured.

"I was trying to help someone who was bleeding heavily from the head when police told me I couldn't," he said. "Next thing I knew, I was being arrested and was held in detention for 21 hours without being able to call anyone."

Along with the arrests, police are also being called into question for an incident Sunday night when they held more than 200 people on a busy downtown intersection for hours in torrential rain.

Detainees included G-20 summit accredited journalists and people who say they were shopping or waiting for public transport.

Opposition parties have also called for a public inquiry.


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