July 07, 2010
After an emotional morning-long debate, city council voted 36-0 to “commend the outstanding work” of Toronto Police Chief Bill Blair, his officers and other police forces working during the G20 summit in Toronto.
Two amendments — lauding Blair for supporting a civilian review planned by the Toronto Police Services board, and the board itself for “exercising its appropriate oversight role” — passed 35-1, with Councillor Rob Ford, a candidate for mayor, the nay on both votes.
The votes, triggered by a motion of support from Councillor Mark Grimes (Ward 6, Etobicoke-Lakeshore), came a day after the police services board reversed its earlier stance that only an internal review was necessary.
The debate at council underlines the aftershocks that continue to rock the city from the June 26 rampage by vandals who broke away from a peaceful protest as world leaders met, and from the mass arrests and detentions a day later.
The decision was unanimous because some who voiced opposition to Grimes’s motion, including Councillor Gord Perks (Ward 14, Parkdale-High Park) and others from council’s left wing, weren’t present when the vote was called.
Other councillors said the amendments, proposed by Mayor David Miller and Councillor Shelley Carroll, made the motion more palatable by acknowledging the importance of holding an external review.
Ford, alone in his vote opposing the inquiry, said that in the face of anarchists who ran down Yonge St. smashing shop windows, “our police were too nice.”
“I don’t think there should be an inquiry or review,” of police actions, “none whatsoever,” said the Etobicoke North councillor. “Our police force was more than polite, more than accommodating with the protesters,” in the face of taunts and worse, he added.
“If I was chief, I would have moved in Saturday afternoon and cleaned house,” instead of waiting until Sunday to make mass arrests, Ford said.
More than 1,000 people were arrested, mostly on Sunday, and most eventually released without charge. A flashpoint for criticism came when riot police boxed in protesters and bystanders for hours in pouring rain at Queen St. and Spadina Ave., arresting large numbers.
The tactics and behaviour of police on the streets and in the temporary detention facility on Eastern Ave. have sparked calls for an independent inquiry from Amnesty International, the Canadian Civil Liberties Association and numerous other groups. The civilian Special Investigations Unit is also investigating five reported cases of serious injury involving police.
Suzan Hall (Ward 1, Etobicoke North) said of G20 protesters: “Many people chose to thrill-seek, basically,” and, while there may have been incidents of concern, “on the whole our police service served us well.”
Giorgio Mammoliti, a mayoral candidate until Monday, grew emotional in his support of the police.
“The people brought golf balls to whip at our police officers,” he said, his face reddening and his voice rising to a shout. The officers “run the risk of dying and we’re on trial,” for their efforts, he said before Speaker Sandra Bussin interrupted to ask him to get control of himself.
“You should be on trial for your behaviour right now,” Mammoliti (Ward 7, York West) shot back at Bussin.
Others sounded a caution about unquestioning support of the police.
Michael Walker said the discussion, with several councillors questioning why people would go to G20 protests given the possibility of trouble, was growing “more and more disturbing.”
Councillors should be “stewards” of civil rights and, when more than 1,000 people are arrested and a small percentage — 263, according to the Civil Liberties Association — are charged, it’s unfair to portray all protesters as “anarchists and nihilists,” said Walker (Ward 22, St. Paul’s).
Using the actions of a few to justify the violation of civil rights of others is “crossing the line,” he added. “Once we cross the line once, it’s easier to cross it again . . . and before you know it you don’t even have a democracy.”
Brian Ashton (Ward 36, Scarborough Southwest) struck a similar theme, saying that Saturday’s vandalism was “bloody outrageous,” but so was the 14-hour detention of an 18-year-old woman who was just carrying a backpack home from work.
If you focus on one wrong and not the other, he said, “Who wins? The people with the masks on, the cockroaches banging on the windows.”
Howard Moscoe (Ward 15, Eglinton-Lawrence) warned colleagues: “By wrapping yourself in the flag on this particular motion you are actually doing a disservice to the police force,” and displaying a lack of confidence that a review will vindicate their actions.
Deputy Mayor Joe Pantalone (Ward 19, Trinity-Spadina), also a mayoral candidate, said he’s confident the review will show Blair did an “excellent job,” but “the system can always do better” so councillors should wait for facts before judging.
Glenn De Baeremaeker, considered a member of council’s left wing, said he watched TV coverage of the Saturday mayhem and has no sympathy for those arrested.
“I didn’t see any police officers chasing, assaulting and harassing people. I saw police officers protecting people,” said De Baeremaeker (Ward 38, Scarborough Centre).
Mayor David Miller, who has staunchly supported the actions of Blair and his officers while acknowledging concerns about specific incidents, said police were put in an “impossible situation” by the chief requirement that they protect the G20 perimeter.
Miller said he saw firsthand what police had to contend with when, for the first time, he needed a police guard to get him safely out of City Hall, en route to Exhibition Place. He said he was confident council would support the police while acknowledging the importance of civilian oversight.
Councillors Pam McConnell (Ward 28, Toronto Centre-Rosedale), Frank Di Giorgio (Ward 12, York-South Weston) and Adam Vaughan (Ward 20, Trinity-Spadina) excused themselves from the vote because they sit on the Police Services Board.
Absent for the vote were: Perks, Janet Davis (Ward 31, Beaches-East York), Joe Mihevc (Ward 21, St. Paul’s), Paula Fletcher (Ward 30, Toronto-Danforth), Adam Giambrone (Ward 18, Danforth) and Bussin (Ward 32, Beaches-East York), who left the chamber during the debate.