'Excessive, unjustified force' used on Quebec protesters
Peter O'Neil
The Vancouver Sun

Citizen Web Site
Thursday, November 13, 2003

The RCMP abused its power while using "oppressive" force against protesters at the 2001 Summit of the Americas in Quebec City, resulting in a violation of both the Criminal Code and the Charter of Rights, according to the RCMP Public Complaints Commission.

"RCMP members used excessive and unjustified force," chief commissioner Shirley Heafey concluded in her scathing report, obtained yesterday by CanWest News.

The report said the Mounties had the right to disperse protesters near a gathering of leaders from North and South America, including U.S. President George W. Bush and Prime Minister Jean Chretien.

But the RCMP's tactical squad violated its own procedures by giving inadequate warning and then using tear gas, rubber bullets, a "flash bang" grenade and a Taser gun to scatter crowds during a day of protest.

She recommended that the two senior RCMP inspectors responsible for crowd control be "dealt with accordingly" and that individual officers who "abused their power and authority" be subjected to "appropriate sanctions."

Ms. Heafey also said the RCMP should apologize to New Democratic Party MP Svend Robinson, who received a letter from the Mounties in February that dismissed his complaints and blamed the MP and other protesters for the violence.

Ms. Heafey, in supporting Mr. Robinson's appeal to the Public Complaints Commission, outlined in graphic detail two examples of police brutality.

In one instance, an officer shot 50,000 volts of electricity from a Taser gun into a protester who was lying face-down on the pavement, waiting to be arrested, with one arm held up for a handcuff and the other over his head flashing the peace sign.

The gun, according to the manufacturer's website, "is solely designed to stop the most hardened of targets: extremely violent, aggressive, goal-oriented and drug-induced suspects."

In another instance, officers fired rubber bullets at a group of well-dressed, adult men who had simply gathered 10 to 15 metres from an RCMP post and shook hands.

The laughing officers aimed their multiple laser range finders at the crotch of one man, who appeared to be hit in the buttocks and was hiding behind a tree.

"One member clearly said: 'These guys don't speak a word of English, boys,' to the laughter of others. The struck civilian switched to English, pleading to speak with the 'officer in charge.' He was laughed at by unknown members and told to 'go home' in English," Ms. Heafey wrote.

"This conduct was inappropriate and oppressive. The four civilians were not aggressive and posed no threat."

The circumstances surrounding both the Taser and the rubber bullet incidents, according to Ms. Heafey, "could not have remotely called for such disgraceful conduct."

Ms. Heafey will deliver her final report, which is not binding on the force, after the RCMP has an opportunity to comment on her interim decision. Mr. Robinson, meanwhile, is continuing his own lawsuit against the RCMP.

RCMP Commissioner Giuliano Zaccardelli received the report yesterday and will review the findings and recommendations before responding, said Staff-Sgt. Paul Marsh.

Mr. Robinson, who will make the report public today, said he ask Solicitor General Wayne Easter to call in Commissioner Zaccardelli to explain both the brutality and the RCMP's subsequent "whitewash" investigation.

"People just dismiss (protesters) as a bunch of radical young people protesting against (free trade)," Mr. Robinson said.

"These were a group of young people whose most basic rights were trampled on and who were subject to breaches of the Criminal Code."

Ms. Heafey's report says the RCMP failed to follow its own operational policy.

The RCMP, while having the right to disperse crowds in order to protect foreign leaders, must follow their own rules which require officers to give protesters sufficient time to act on those orders.

She wrote that the RCMP must clearly tell protesters that they could be arrested and charged if they don't disperse, and that they could also be subjected to forceful measures such as the use of tear gas and rubber bullets.

Instead, the Mounties moved in only two minutes after the first verbal order to disperse was given.

"None of this tactical operational procedure was followed," she wrote.

The report says the use of tear gas and other instruments of force were likely counterproductive, including the tossing of an "incendiary and disorienting device known as a 'flash bang,' which made a large explosive 'flash' in the air followed by a loud 'bang' noise to 'scare and confuse the crowd,' as described in the investigation report.

"Under the circumstances at the time," wrote Ms. Heafey, "this may not have been needed or helpful in dispersing the crowd in an orderly and controlled fashion. The resultant fright and confusion was immediate and plainly evident on both (RCMP) tapes."