If you’ve been out and about on the quiet, but not deserted, streets of Toronto you’ll have seen little teams of police out and about, looking like the cast of Flashpoint waiting to shoot a scene.
There’s a lot of talk about the localized special powers given to police during the G20, the sound cannons, various detentions and arrests. There’s been a lot of big statements bandied about like Police State and Nazi Ghetto. Here’s a record and some information about some of these things.
The sound cannon, officially called the Long Range Acoustic Device (LRAD), is a controversial technology capable of emitting very loud, high pitched sounds as well as transmitting pre-recorded and real-time voice messages. This was used in Pittsburgh to control protesters and caused some trouble because if used for longer than a few seconds, the sound can damage eardrums. Civil Liberties groups attempted to get an injunction against the use of the sound cannons here in Toronto. The Judge ruled on Friday morning that sound cannons can be used but under limited rules. The Toronto Police say they will mostly use them for communication and will only BEEEEP at people for 2-3 seconds.
HOWEVER: CityTV has the opposite headline: “Injunction Granted: Judge Sides with Protesters on Sound Cannon Ruling.” They are reporting the same news. Because the judge did limit the use, some news sources are reporting it one way, some the other. Crazy.
manwhoalmostwas – Congratulations, downtown Toronto is now officially a Nazi-style Ghetto! #G20
This tweet, spotted Friday around 12:30pm, is the epitome of one view of the security in downtown Toronto. It is true that the Public Works Protection Act does give the police increased powers within five metres of the fence (and within it). It is true that there are fences. However, beyond that fence Torontonians’ rights remain very similar to what they were last weekend. Aside from a small patch of downtown, we are free to move relatively unmolested (Update: with some exceptions: see below).
Keep this in mind.
On Friday, at Allan Gardens while protesters gathered, reports were that police were searching journalists and protesters alike– if people refused they were turned away. A lot of tweeters were calling these searches illegal, but are they?
The answer lies in the basis of Canadian law. Canada has a common law system, whereby law is developed by the decisions of judges and guided by reference to precedent. The upshot of this is that legality/illegality is more of a grey area than it is in a country like, say, the US.
When calling searches “illegal”, people often refer to the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Section 8, for example, states:
8. Everyone has the right to be secure against unreasonable search or seizure.
However, this is undercut by the word “unreasonable”. Nowhere in written Canadian law does it state what is “unreasonable”. In addition, we have Section 1, which goes like this:
1. The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms guarantees the rights and freedoms set out in it subject only to such reasonable limits prescribed by law as can be demonstrably justified in a free and democratic society.
These “reasonable limits” are decided upon by a judge. That is to say that until you go to court and a judge bangs the gavel and tells you that the search you were subjected to was unreasonable and unjustified, only then will we (and, even, the police) know whether these searches were legal or illegal.
London and Pittsburgh
Toronto’s not used to being heavily policed. We’re a safe city, as cities of this size go, probably one of the safest. The G20 is arguably one of the most heavily policed events– and one of the most potentially explosive (perhaps literally)– in the civilized, western world. I just wanted to put some links in to remind people of the Pittsburgh and London experiences.
These are Saturday and Sunday experiences, so (on Friday) we’re not there yet. But should be interesting.
I’m seeing a lot of comments from people about how friendly the police are. I saw two police on horseback waving to a little girl. Nobody can accuse the ISU of being gruff for no reason. At the same time, we’re also getting isolated reports of snarky comments from police towards both protesters and bystanders.