Ottawa XPress, Thursday November 13, 2003

Policing was a major election issue, what with hooligans wreaking havoc in South Keys and Ottawa's wild western wards, stoning council candidates and beating up teenagers.

Meanwhile the Ottawa Witness Group was confronting the rough stuff that comes in uniform.

Group members attend all major demonstrations to keep an eye on what happens, and wear high-visibility purple T-shirts so everybody - police included - know who they are. They've just put out their second annual report on police handling of major events.

The document, called One Step Forward, One Step Back, says policing of major events since the November 2001 G-20 protests has improved, but that public trust is eroding because of "regressive policing choices ... since April 2003, including the arrest of activist leaders and the use of Tasers against peaceful protestors."

The group concludes that the police services board should do more than just approve budgets at its regular city council meetings. It should be setting police conduct policies, and lobbying for a change in the complaints procedure.

About 95 per cent of all formal complaints against the police are dropped, and in a phone interview Paul Durber from the Witness Group called that number "extraordinarily high." In 1997, the Harris government dismantled the province's independent civilian Police Complaints Commission that investigated things like police abuses of power.

Before releasing the report the Witness Group handed out surveys to all running in the municipal election. It was a way of encouraging our elected representatives to think about the issue of public accountability but only 20 per cent responded. Capital Ward's Clive Doucet wrote that the complaints system is flawed, but commenting on it would delude people into thinking the City can actually do anything about it.

Others were more outspoken. The G-20 demonstrators were "hooligans and thugs," according to mayoral second placer Terry Kilrea, and "civilians have no business telling the police how to do their job."

That line of thought was contradicted by new Liberal Community Safety Minister Monte Kwinter. He told the Toronto Star last week the current police complaints system is "cop heavy" and should be overhauled.