That's all according to a new report from the RCMP Public Complaints Commission — released earlier this week, almost two years after the G20 summit turned downtown Toronto into an armed camp patrolled by nearly 20,000 police officers. The Commission, who are meant to "hold the RCMP accountable to the public", investigated a series of complaints against the Mounties, including what happened during the kettling at Queen & Spadina.
According to the report, when the RCMP arrived at the scene, things were already confusing. They couldn't, for instance, find the on-site Commander. FOR TWO HOURS. The RCMP's own Commander — knowing that kettling was against RCMP policy, unable to find the on-site Commander — confirmed the order with the Toronto Police command centre and finally agreed to help with the kettle. He didn't talk to anyone higher up at the RCMP. "In the absence of somebody telling me what to do," the Commander explained to the Commission, "we just worked it out amongst ourselves."
His Mounties marched into the crowd, splitting the kettle in half. Over the next two hours, they would play their part alongside the Toronto Police Service and the OPP, surrounding 300 people with a wall of shields and riot gear. Not one single person in the kettle who was later interviewed by the Commission had heard any kind of warning to clear the area before they were surrounded. Many had been peaceful protesters, others curious onlookers. Some were local residents, out walking their dogs or getting ice cream. Scores of them would be arrested. YouTube footage shows how some of the arrests happened: a sudden break in the wall of riot gear, an officer rushing forward to grab someone from behind, roughly dragging them from the kettle as they scream out in terror, and then the row of riot police closing in again.
|Toronto Police along Queen the day before the kettle|
A year later, the Toronto Police would promise never to kettle anyone ever again.
But kettling wasn't the only issue investigated by the RCMP Complaints Commissioner. The Mounties, according his report, were not involved in much activity outside the fence — they weren't the ones attacking protesters at Queen's Park, arresting people without warrants at the University of Toronto, or running the detention centre on Eastern Avenue. But as the police force with "primary responsibility" for general security at all international conferences, the Mounties were heavily involved in the planning for the event. And the report raises plenty of questions about the planning2. It was rushed. And the Commission found that the various police forces involved didn't do enough to coordinate their operations. At the G8, for instance, which was held outside Toronto just before the G20, they had co-organized everything and put together a joint "Concept of Operations" document. Neither of those things was done for the G20 and it caused major problems — like the confusion around the RCMP's involvement in the kettling1. The RCMP Commander at Queen & Spadina wasn't clear on what he was supposed to do, disconnected from the Mounties' chain-of-command. They hadn't addressed the kettling question in the lead up to the event even though it was one of the highest profile issues heading into Toronto's G20 — there had been an inquiry into the use of a kettle by the London police during the G20 in England the year before
And yet somehow, despite all of this, the report clears the RCMP of responsibility. The Complaints Commissioner concludes that "on balance" they did "a pretty good job". Their actions "were, in a general sense, reasonable and appropriate." The planning "was robust and thorough". There was "attention paid to ensuring the rights of demonstrators." And his conclusions were echoed in headlines all over the country. The CBC: "report clears RCMP". CTV: "RCMP acted reasonably". The National Post: "Report exonerates RCMP".
|Spadina, south of Queen, on the day before|
You see, the RCMP Complaints Commissioner used to be a guy by the name of Paul Kennedy. He was a career civil servant with 35 years of relevant experience, including time working with CSIS (the Canadian intelligence agency). He was kept in the job by Stephen Harper's Conservatives when they first won the election and initially everything seemed to be going well. His contract was renewed every year; the Conservatives praised his "commitment to achieving excellence in policing through enhanced accountability". They even promised to expand his powers.
But then, he said some things The Conservatives didn't like. He suggested the Mounties shouldn't be allowed to police themselves when they killed or injured someone. He investigated claims they might have illegally helped Harper win the 2006 election. And that they were barring liberals from Conservative events during the 2011 election. When four Mounties tasered a man to death at the Vancouver airport, Kennedy released a scathing report, laying out a long list of all the mistakes they had made. When they tasered a fifteen year-old girl while she was lying handcuffed on the floor being held down by three officers (and then tried to cover it up, and then investigated and cleared themselves for it), he released another one. He complained when the Conservatives slashed the Complaints Commission budget. And he complained, over and over again, when the RCMP refused to cooperate with his investigations, wouldn't answer his questions, wouldn't allow him see documents, and took years to respond to his requests. More than anything, he complained that he didn't actually have any real power to hold the RCMP accountable at all.
So he was replaced. Harper's government let Kennedy go and in his place they appointed a guy by the name of Ian McPhail. (He's now been the "interim" Commissioner for two and a half years.) McPhail's background was in real estate and wills. He had no experience with criminal law or civilian oversight. As he explained to reporters when he was hired, "Look, you probably know more about the background there than I do." But he did just happen to be a long-time Conservative ally, with ties to the party going all the way back to the 1970s. When Mike Harris wanted to chip away at environmental regulations, he appointed Ian McPhail as Chair of the Environmental Review Tribunal. When he wanted to chip away at public broadcasting, he named Ian McPhail as the head of TVO. And so, when Harper wanted to curb criticism of the RCMP, he named Ian McPhail as the RCMP watchdog3. And he did it right around the same time that he announced the G20 would be coming to Toronto.
Still, even the most experienced and objective Complaints Commissioner would have trouble holding the RCMP accountable. As McPhail's report points out, the RCMP Act "does not require the RCMP to cooperate with a Commission public interest investigation". It was the RCMP who got to "[set] out the conditions under which the Commission would be permitted to view RCMP documentation" and "crafted a protocol" for viewing them. Almost all of the information McPhail refers to in his report comes from the RCMP themselves: from interviews with officers (who, as we've seen, didn't always include significant information they claim wasn't significant) and the notes they took (which the report repeatedly mentions as being inadequate and poorly prepared). One RCMP officer refused to talk to him altogether4.
|Police along Queen Street the day before|
There is a lot to investigate. There have been at least ten separate reports launched into police actions during the G20, all of them with their own specific concerns. (One watchdog released a report just yesterday, slamming the police forces involved for using "excessive force", having "ignored basic rights citizens have under the charter", adopting inflammatory rhetoric6, and making "unlawful" arrests. That watchdog calls what happened at Queen & Spadina "unreasonable and unnecessary" and identifies ten separate uses of the kettle tactic.) But none of them have had the power to investigate the entire story7. Many of the reports point to problems with the way the police forces worked together, but none of them has been able to fully examine those overarching issues — or the fundamental decisions that may have caused them.
That's why groups like the Canadian Civil Liberties Association are calling for a full public inquiry into security at the G20. They're demanding a comprehensive investigation of exactly what happened, who made what decisions, and which decisions were the right ones and which were the wrong ones — all the way from the Prime Minster's Office down to the frontlines at Queen & Spadina. They want an explanation of how we got to a point where anarchists ran free through the streets, police cars burned, and more than 1,100 people were arrested8. Because a full investigation, from top to bottom, with real power, led by an experienced and impartial Commissioner, is the only way to truly learn what happened. And we're going to have to learn what happened if we want to make sure it never happens again.
- Adam Bunch
You can read the full RCMP Complaint Commission report here. The Canadian Civil Liberties Association's response is here.
All photos by Adam Bunch
All photos by Adam Bunch