Report and Recommendations on the
Policing of G-8 Events in Ottawa
Ottawa Witness Group
July 16, 2002
1. Purposes of this Report
The Report of the Witness Group on G-8 Events in Ottawa has three main purposes:
i. To report to the community on observed behaviour and actions of police during the June/July 2002 G-8 events in Ottawa.
ii. To raise concerns and questions about the treatment of protesters, and
iii. To recommend further steps in witnessing police behaviour and improving police-protester interaction in the future.
2. The Witness Group
The Witness Group is a volunteer collective of individuals who came together in early June 2002 out of concern over police behaviour during G-20 demonstrations in Ottawa in November 2001. During these demonstrations, numerous peaceful protesters were subjected to various forms of provocation and intimidation by police. (For further information, see The Citizens Panel on Policing and the Community: Overview Report and Recommendations, May 2002, at http://members.rogers.com/citizenspanel).
Given these events, Witnesses sought to protect the rights of protesters and to hold police accountable during G-8 protests. Witnesses participated in G-8 events not as protesters but as observers on June 22, 26 and 27 to ensure police accountability. Witnesses also monitored the protest at 246 Gilmour St. on July 3rd and the eviction of protesters by police.
Witness Group members held their first meeting on June 12. Less than two weeks afterward, the group undertook several actions, including:
* deciding upon a mandate; in particular:
* they acted as observers and had a strict mandate not to interpose themselves or interfere in interactions between police and protesters, and
* because police are charged by state to monitor protesters, Witnesses decided to utilize their limited resources to monitor the actions of police and protect the right to dissent.
* determining a method of visibility at demonstrations (all Witnesses wore bilingual purple T-shirts with "Witness: Protect the Right to Protest" in white lettering);
* communicating of the Group's identity, mandate and activities to protesters, the police, other activist groups such as Legal Support Ottawa, the media and the community (direct communication and dissemination of press releases); and
* holding four training sessions with role playing, note-taking, and questions and answers. All Witnesses must have attended at least one training session.
3. Overview of Observations
Observations of Witnesses can be categorized in three ways:
i. Regarding G-8 events on June 22, 26 and 27, generally police interaction with marchers was professional. Police adhered to policy and used regular uniformed officers rather than riot police, in contrast with the G-20 demonstrations in Ottawa. The work of Ottawa Police Deputy Chief Larry Hill in the Agenda for Excellence, and its implementation through the Major Events Liaison Team (MELT) may be credited for the improvement.
ii. Having said this, Witnesses had three main concerns regarding the policing of G-8 events in Ottawa on June 22, 26 and 27:
a. Witnesses observed a number of disturbing incidents where police interfered with expression by groups participating in G-8 events, e.g., an attempt to halt use of a sound van and searches of protesters. The MELT team helped to defuse some incidents.
b. Constant police videotaping provoked and intimidated, particularly when videotape teams waded into large crowds, and moreso when they captured on tape people arriving in school buses. There should be a way for police to observe crowds without provocation or intrusion into personal privacy. We do not understand why Witness activities were also videotaped.
c. While the majority of officers had identification, Witnesses estimated that about 30 percent of officers either had no identification or ID that was not readily visible. Witnesses believe that all police involved in major events in Ottawa must have ID that is visible in order to be accountable to the public.
iii. Witnesses were very disturbed to observe the use of overwhelming force by police in the eviction of protesters from 246 Gilmour St. on July 3rd, for example the use of excessive amounts of pepper spray. Witnesses believe these actions marred the generally successful actions by police during G-8 events on June 22, 26 and 27.
II. Events Witnessed: Chronology and Incidents
1. June 22, 2002 Global Democracy Ottawa March/Freedom Fair
About 250 marchers, 20 Witnesses and police began assembling at about 11:30 a.m. at the National Gallery. The march proceeded peacefully through the Byward Market and Confederation Square then south along Elgin Street to Confederation Park.
Generally, while the day's events unfolded well and the police were professional, Witnesses had two main concerns:
i. Police on foot videotaped marchers during the march. When asked by a participant from Legal Support Ottawa to stop, they did not, indicating that this was "regular procedure". (Originally Witnesses were requested to ask the police to stop videotaping. This request was declined given their mandate of non-interference in police actions, however, Witnesses observed the request made by the participant herself.)
ii. Members of the police MELT introduced themselves both to Witnesses and to leaders of the GDO march at National Gallery. While they provided their names when requested, they had no ID on their shirts.
2. Events of June 26 - 27, 2002
Several events occurred during these two days sponsored by Take the Capital!, the Raging Grannies and Committee of the World March of Women, the Bikesheviks/Vélorutionnaires and the Coalition des luttes anti-capitalistes (CLAC), including:
* Rally at Dundonald Park
* Snake Marches
* The Knit-in event on Sparks Street
* The "No One Is Illegal" March
* The march on the U.S. Embassy
* The "squat" at 246 Gilmour (which continued until July 3rd)
* Arrival of out-of-town protestors by bus
While these events were generally peaceful, Witnesses had the following concerns:
* Bicycle police rode into a crowd of pedestrians at the Dundonald Park rally and leapt from their bikes to arrest an individual without warning, posing a risk to pedestrians.
* Ontario Provincial Police members indicated to protesters that the sound van (which displayed an Ontario Coalition Against Poverty sign) for the June 27 snake march would be towed away. (Other police reported this had not been planned.) The MELT team eventually defused this situation and the van was allowed to proceed.
* Constant police videotaping of protesters was often provocative and intrusive. Some video teams shoved marchers, waded into the middle of large crowds, and aggressively blocked the flow of the marches at tight corners. All those arriving in town by bus were videotaped as they left their buses.
* A group of young people was searched at the National War Memorial after June 27 snake march; it was unclear why. The arrival of Witnesses and MELT members helped stop the searches.
3. Eviction of Protesters at 246 Gilmour: July 3, 2002
On June 26th, protesters occupied the Gilmour Street house that had been slated for demolition. The Witness Group understood the action to be part of the G-8 protests and consequently monitored both the occupation and the subsequent eviction of protesters.
Our observations are as follows:
* MELT members were disengaged from the political action soon after it began. Witnesses were concerned with the potential for "hard hat" approaches.
* The protest appeared to be peaceful, marked by music, and reports of renovation to the house to make it habitable. There were no reports of violence from protesters and no indication of weapons.
* Communication between protesters and both the Witness Group and outside world generally brought frequent monitoring, especially when police action seemed imminent. Intense observation by a number of Witnesses occurred between 1:30 a.m. and 7:30 a.m. on the morning of July 3rd, when in fact a large corps of police, firefighters, ambulance personnel and others were engaged in the end of the protest.
* The site was cleared, but Witnesses remained in the office building across the street during the entire episode, as well as on the surrounding street corners. They noted that:
* The site, including the front of that office building, was declared a "crime scene"; people were told to vacate the site or be arrested - even a person who was both Witness and shareholder in the office building. Its doors were taped shut. Police also attempted to block the view of witnesses between the doors of this building by standing in front of the doors at various points during the evening.
* Police involved in the action - and one Witness estimated their number at one time at 90, not counting two bus loads of Public Order Unit personnel - were not consistently displaying identification.
* Witnesses were very disturbed that protesters on the balcony of the house were unnecessarily exposed to pepper spray. A young man first collapsed after seven seconds of spray; all appeared to succumb after 30 seconds. The spraying continued for two further minutes at varying levels of intensity.
* Police action to enter the building was forceful, breaking windows and frames, battering the door down and lifting the porch from its position.
* Armaments were everywhere evident - including rifles and a sub-machine gun. Fire truck ladders and cherry pickers were used to enter the building on the balcony and third floor. Police entering the building were attired in Public Order Unit gear, with weapons and red and black pepper spray canisters.
* Witnesses were concerned about the health and safety of protesters. While police donned gas masks, occupants had no such protection. Bodies of protesters on the balcony were piled handcuffed on one another, still covered with pepper spray. Police poured water on them only after the crowd at the nearby corner exclaimed that a protester is "having a seizure". The same person was last to be pulled from the building and put on a Gurney. One ambulance was present when, at 6:50, protesters were removed through the back of the house. A second and third ambulance arrived ten minutes later.
* Witnesses questioned whether the interventions by the MELT team that helped defuse difficult situations during the marches could well have averted the use of overwhelming force against the 14 people finally arrested and removed from the house. While the occupation may ultimately have been termed illegal, the force used to end it appeared disproportionate to those who monitored the protest for the week between June 26 and July 3.
III. Concerns Raised: Key Questions
1. Questions for the Community at Large
Given the history of large and often political demonstrations in Ottawa, as Canada's capital city, it is a certainty that such demonstrations will continue to take place. As such:
* How can constructive communication be facilitated between the police, protesters and the community concerning the policing of major events in Ottawa?
* Should public consultations inform the policing of major events? Should the police continue to hold public consultations on the Agenda for Excellence, released in April by the Ottawa Police?
As public servants, police are accountable to the public. As such:
* In addition to the Police Services Board and the public complaints process, what accountability mechanisms should be in place concerning the policing of major events in Ottawa?
2. Questions for the Police
i. Lack of consistency in police identification
Lack of identification was a major issue raised during the Citizens Panel public hearings and also during the public consultations on the Agenda for Excellence sponsored by police in June. Given this, it is difficult to understand why some police involved in G-8 events in Ottawa either had no ID or ID that was not readily visible. As such:
* Why did some police during the policing of G-8 events have no identification?
* What policies exempted some officers from having identification? Why are the Provincial Solicitor General "guidelines" for bearing identification not mandatory in a democratic society?
* How did police determine which officers did not need identification?
* Will a 100 percent rule be enforced at subsequent major event demonstrations and will there be the sanction for non-compliant officers?
A radio news report on the morning of June 28 included a police statement that during the G-8 protests the police "didn't need to use tear gas because we used videotaping instead."
* Is this an accurate reflection of how the police regard the use of videotaping at major events?
* If so, in what respects do police regard videotaping to be equivalent to tear gas?
* Tear gas is often used to disperse and intimidate crowds. Do police think videotaping was likely to be effective in dispersing crowds, or did they hope to intimidate?
The marchers expressed the view that the police video coverage was intrusive, disturbing and upsetting. Given this:
* If the police were committed to a "soft hat" approach, why did some video teams shove marchers, wade into the middle of large crowds, and aggressively block the flow of the march at tight corners?
* Why did the police film people arriving in Ottawa to participate in the G-8 events?
* Why did some video teams officers identification obscure their badges while filming?
It is ironic that the identification badges of videotaping officers were often obscured.
Hours of video images of thousands of individuals who were not engaged in criminal activity - most notably those arriving by bus - were acquired without their consent, even against their will. Given this:
* How will the police guarantee that these individuals' rights to privacy and peaceful assembly are not breached when the video footage is reviewed?
* What safeguards are placed on duplication and dissemination of the video obtained? In particular, is there any decision on sharing images with other security and intelligence forces either in Canada or abroad?
* How will police help citizens ensure that their images are not abused?
* Will the police provide viewing sessions, individually, to event participants who wish to view how and whether they might have been captured on video?
* What staff resources do the police expect to put in place to offer this freedom of information service?
iii. Individual incidents of questionable police behaviour, June 22, 26, 27
While police behaviour was generally improved during the June G-8 events in comparison November 2001 G-20 events, Witnesses remain concerned by incidences of very questionable police behaviour such as:
* Why did police initially indicate to protesters that the sound van for the June 27 snake march would be towed away. Did the police call Budget to notify them about the sound equipment on the top of the van? If so, why?
* Why were young people searched at the War Memorial after the snake march on June 27?
iv. The eviction of protesters at 246 Gilmour St.
a. The definition of "crime scene"
As noted, Witnesses were told by police that the "crime scene" on Gilmour St. included the front of the PSAC property. Thus far, Witnesses have not received an answer as to why this property was included in the "crime scene" by police. Given this:
* Why was the front of the office building across the street included in the definition of the "crime scene" by police?
* Why were the doors of the PSAC building taped shut by police? Given that police stated to Witnesses within the PSAC building that "they were in for the night" if these Witnesses had chosen to leave by the back door, would they have been arrested? If so, on what charge?
b. The use of force
The MELT proved to be a positive presence during G-8 events on June 22, 26 and 27 and defused some potentially difficult situations. Given this:
* Was the Major Events Liaison Team (MELT) police team withdrawn from discussions concerning the squat house? If so, why?
* Why was the occupation seen primarily as an illegal act rather than as a protest, amenable to mediation and negotiation from the beginning rather than during its last day? Did this mean that a "hard hat" approach was to be pursued?
During the week protesters occupied 246 Gilmour, there were no reports of violence. Given this:
* Why was the decision made to use significant force to remove the protesters? Why were negotiations terminated in favour of using force?
* Had a specific deadline been set for the termination of negotiations? If so, why?
* Whose decision was it to use force to evict the remaining protesters?
* How was the level of force determined, and were there safeguards against injury and undue threat to health of the protesters?
c. The use of pepper spray
Human rights groups such as Amnesty International have raised serious concern about the use of pepper spray, noting that "several subjects died after being placed in dangerous restraint holds or subdued with pepper spray" after being detained by American police (See International Report 2001: USA, available at www.amnesty.ca.) Given these concerns as well as Article 1  of the United Nations Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, to which Canada has been a signatory since June 24, 1987:
* How can the use of pepper spray at 246 Gilmour St. be justified?
* How much pepper spray was used during the police action to remove protesters from 246 Gilmour on July 3rd?
* Why was the decision made to use pepper spray? Why were negotiations terminated in favour of using pepper spray?
* Some protesters at 246 Gilmour were seen on stretchers. One protester stated in a July 5 Ottawa Citizen story that there was a lack of medical attention for him. Were all protesters who required medical attention treated, especially after being pepper sprayed? What were the conditions of their treatment? Were they treated immediately? Were they monitored by trained medical personnel after initial treatment for burns, respiratory distress, psychological distress, etc.? Were they treated in a medical facility or in detention while awaiting bail?
d. Conditions of detention
Conditions of detention were a major issue during the Citizens Panel public hearings. Given this:
* What were the conditions of detention for protesters involved in the G-8 demonstration and were they the same as those for other detainees?
* If there were differences, what were they?
* Informal discussions were held with police to enable Witness monitoring of detention conditions. Will police put in place a policy for facilitating third-party monitoring in future?
e. Condition of bail
A story in the July 5 edition of the Ottawa Citizen noted that the Crown attorney condemned the initial conditions of bail for those arrested at 246 Gilmour St. as being "too harsh": Given this:
* Why did the police originally impose these conditions?
* Will Charter guarantees of freedom of association and expression be ensured in framing future conditions?
f. Cost of the operation
The decision to evict protesters forcibly from 246 Gilmour St. involved well over a hundred police, firefighters and other personnel as well as equipment such as fire trucks, buses, etc. Given this:
* What was the total cost to remove the protesters at 246 Gilmour (including personnel overtime for police, firefighters, etc, equipment deployment)?
Witnesses conclude the following concerning G-8 events in Ottawa:
1. The relatively peaceful demonstrations of June 22, June 26 and June 27 were not a result of a change in the behaviour of protesters but rather a change in the behaviour of police.
2. While these events were relatively successful and police behaviour was generally improved in comparison to that of G-20 events in November 2001, Witnesses have concerns about the use of videotaping, the inconsistency in police identification and incidents of harassment of some protesters.
3. The relative success of these events has been marred by the unnecessary and excessive use of force to evict protestors at 246 Gilmour Street.
1. Recommendations directed toward the police and authorities responsible for them. Given that, as Canada's capital, Ottawa will continue to see large political demonstrations, there is a significant need for communication between police and protesters in advance of these events and also accountability measures for the policing of these events. As such, Witnesses recommend:
i. A continuation of the "soft-hat" approach set out in the Agenda for Excellence as well as continued and meaningful public consultation to give life to this document.
ii. Greater consistency of application of the spirit and letter of this Agenda, especially in off-scene activities of protesters.
iii. Expansion of the MELT team's authority to cover political protests that are part of the Major Event, i.e., the political occupation of 246 Gilmour Street.
iv. Re-examination of the significant use of force in cases like 246 Gilmour.
v. Training for police on issues involving political protests (see recommendations in the Citizens Panel report http://members.rogers.com/citizenspanel), and on neutrality of third-party observers.
2. Directed to the larger community. Given the need for accountability measures for the policing of major events to ensure adherence by police to democratic standards for freedom of expression and freedom of assembly, Witnesses recommend:
i. Continuation of efforts to witness and report on police-protester interaction and treatment by police.
ii. Development and funding of institutions to ensure the continuity of these efforts as well as improved communications between police, protesters, witnesses and the community - e.g., a Council of Elders (see recommendations in the Citizens Panel report).