At the Public Safety Committee yesterday, Toronto Chief Bill Blair lobbed the following statement about “preventive detention” at the G20 into the proceedings [just before the 4 minute mark]:
“I think you are all familiar with images of members of that group who were smashing windows, burning cars, looting stores, and generally causing a great deal of mayhem through vandalism and violence in the city of Toronto. We began to take the steps necessary to contain that threat and over the course of that weekend, the criminal conspiracy to commit criminal acts did not end on Saturday afternoon and it did not end when they left Yonge St. It continued. We were gathering intelligence and information from within the crowd and we had other sources of information that made it very clear to us that the criminal intent of the people involved in those criminal acts continued throughout the weekend. Our ability to continue to police lawful peaceful protest was quite frankly compromised by the actions of those who instead undertook the actions of a mob and engaged in criminal acts, and it was necessary, and decisions were made by our operational commanders and by our major [inaudible] commanders that it was necessary to disperse those crowds, and if the crowds refused to disperse, in order to prevent a breach of the peace, to take persons into preventive detention and that did take place over the course of the weekend.”
Testimony on one such preventive detention was given by biochemistry student Kevin Gagnon, arrested with around 70 others at gunpoint off the floor of the U 0f T gymnasium at four a.m. and held for over 60 hours before being released without charge on the stipulation he leave Toronto within 24 hours.
Don Davies, NDP: “70 out of 70 people had their charges dropped . . . .Who made the decision to burst into that gymnasium and arrest 70 sleeping students?”
Blair: “The investigators who were investigating that case and I must tell you it’s a very complicated case involving a great deal of evidence which I’m not going to be able to disclose and discuss with you here today.”
Davies: “Can we have the names of the investigators who made that decision?”
Blair: “I don’t have them here with me today.”
Davies: “Could you undertake to provide that to the committee?”
Side note: Davies asked about police officers covering up or removing their name badges and Blair responded that it was against his rules so the “approximately 90 officers” who were identified as going badgeless will probably face disciplinary action in the form of loss of one day’s pay.
Okay, back to “preventive detention.”
Roger Gaudet, Bloc: “I saw the pictures. How come you didn’t arrest these people who were masked? You entered into a university gym and you arrested people who were sleeping at four a.m. This wasn’t Halloween; this was June and yet they were masked. How come you didn’t arrest them? They were all together — it would have been easy to surround them and then you’d be finished for the whole weekend. Instead you let them be and you arrested poor students in the university in a gym. Show me the logic in that.”
Blair: “This was a crowd of several thousand and for the police to penetrate that crowd in an effort to apprehend those individuals . . . First of all they had not yet begun to riot tumultuously as they did the following day and so unfortunately there needs to be . . .”
Gaudet: “But those people were masked. This wasn’t a masquerade. You know what you had to do. You should have arrested them right away but no, the police went into a school the next morning in a university. This is a farce.”
Blair: “The decision was made not to try to penetrate this crowd because it would have created a more dangerous situation, and in fact an operational decision was made by investigators that a safer place to apprehend people who they believed were involved in criminal activity was in the school gymnasium away from this crowd. That that was a safer thing to do. Our responsibility is to maintain the rule of law and protect the public but also to do our job in such a way which does not compromise public safety and a decision was made not to try to penetrate this crowd to remove this group but to rather do it in a more safe environment, which is why the arrests were made in a school gymnasium in the very early hours of the morning as opposed to out on the street where a riot might have ensued.”
Insert joke here about the drunk looking for his car keys under the streetlight because there’s more light there.
Maria Mourani, Bloc: “You stated that you made a choice to conduct the arrests in the gymnasium so you’re starting from the premise . . . they presumed that there were Black Blocs in the gymnasium?”
Blair: “The police had reason to believe that the people they were arresting were involved in criminal activity and there was a number of different investigations . . . evidence had been gathered . . .”
Mourani: “You had evidence. You say you had evidence. So why is it that the people in the gymnasium all had their charges dropped? Maybe one or two still have charges outstanding because they refuse to plead guilty . . .”
Blair: “I don’t have the details . . . I can only offer you my understanding of the explanation I have received as to why those charges were dropped and it was because the police did not have the appropriate warrant for the apprehension of those individuals. But that does not negate the fact that they had evidence to make an arrest.”
Mourani: “What you’re saying is that they had no warrant to have some one hundred people arrested in a gymnasium . . . they ended up in a detention centre where their individual rights were violated . . . there was no warrant for that arrest that was conducted in that gymnasium? That’s what I understood just now.”
Blair: “The circumstances of that arrest required what is known as a Feeney warrant and the police did not have the appropriate warrant to make those arrests. The Crown also . . .”
Mourani: “No warrant and they proceeded with those arrests. This is fantastic.”
Blair: “The Crown also commented that the officers had reasonable and probable grounds to make that arrest but it was a technical problem with the way in which the arrest was done and that is why the charges were dropped. That’s my understanding.”
Here’s my understanding.
If police knowingly arrest people illegally with the wrong warrant, they are safely assured that those arrests will never make it to court where gross violations of civil liberties like “preventive detention” can be aired and challenged.
And let’s not forget the Canadian grand-daddy of legalizing preventive detention, the Combating Terrorism Act, has already passed second reading in the House and is well on the road to never being challenged by this committee.
Public Safety Committee Liberal MPs Andrew Kania and Mark Holland, as already noted by Kady and blogged by Boris, completely avoided any questioning of Blair yesterday as to violations of civil liberties. Not word one. Kady:
“This, by the way, is what happens when the Liberals are terrified to be targeted by Conservative Party InfoAlerteBots accusing them of being insufficiently supportive of police: not a single question about civil liberties or the treatment of the summit detainees, but long, meandering lines of questioning on logistical decisions and, if they can manage it, fake lakes.”.
Yeah, well the Libs voted for the Combating Terrorism Act last month too.
Update: Also see Pogge: Preventative detention.
Update #2: Chief Blair explained more about preventive detention towards the end of the meeting when Kania asked why so many arrests at G20, none at G8:
“People were apprehended and detained under that [breach of the peace] legislation [of the criminal code] without intention of bringing them up on criminal charges because there is no charge under breach of the peace. It is simply a preventative detention to maintain the public peace.”