G20 cop found guilty of unlawful arrests

Police arrest a protester during a G20 march in downtown Toronto June 27, 2010. REUTERS/Christinne Muschi

It was five years ago when Toronto hosted the G20 summit and all hell broke loose. A total of 1,100 protesters and bystanders were arrested and detained in June 2010 by the Toronto police during the summit weekend. They were the largest mass arrests in Canadian peacetime history.

Supt. David (Mark) Fenton, was found guilty of two counts of unlawful arrests and one count of discreditable conduct this week by the police Disciplinary Hearing Tribunal. He was acquitted of two additional charges pertaining to detention of prisoners and G20’s processing centre. Fenton, who is the only officer facing consequence for the G20 arrests, will be sentenced in December.

The Disciplinary Hearing Tribunal is a quasi-judicial body, which means it is not a court but functions like a court.  Quasi-judicial bodies are more flexible with rules of evidence and, unlike courts, are not generally bound by previous decisions. They often hear allegations regarding disciplinary matters and breach of conduct.

Police officers in every province must follow a code of conduct, which tells them what the scope of their duties and powers are. In Ontario, the police code of conduct is part of the Ontario Police Services Act.

The police code of conduct says an officer is not lawfully exercising his or her authority if he or she, without good and sufficient cause, makes an unlawful arrest or uses unnecessary force. The code also lists items that are considered discreditable conduct. An example is when an officer acts in a manner that discredits the police reputation.

“This decision to order mass arrests demonstrated a lack of understanding of the right to protest,” said former Superior Court judge, John Hamilton, who ran the tribunal hearing on Fenton’s charges. Hamilton was sympathetic toward the situation Fenton had to deal with but ultimately found Fenton’s decision to box in the protesters was too extreme.

The tribunal ruled that Fenton did not have reasonable grounds to call for the mass arrests during two police blockades, one outside a downtown Toronto hotel, the other at the intersection of Queen Street W. and Spadina Avenue. The tribunal said the arrests were unlawful because Fenton did not allow his officers to use discretion when arresting people.

Fenton ordered that the protestors be “kettled,” a police tactic for crowd control that involves confining groups of protestors to a small area. He was found to have kept protesters boxed during a downpour, which qualified as discreditable conduct.

See: Protesting, your rights and the law

Fenton — who otherwise had an unblemished police record — testified during the hearing that the G20 chaos reminded him of violence in his native Northern Ireland. He also referred to protesters as “terrorists.”

“You don’t do that in this country. This is not a police state, this is Canada,” said Paul Cavalluzzo, a lawyer representing some of the complainants and the Canadian Civil Liberties Association.

Another representative for kettled individuals, Adrienne Lei, took issue with the timing of the decision, stressing in media reports: “It’s a joke that this is the fifth-year anniversary, and we’re finally getting a decision.”

One of the protestors, kettled at Queen and Spadina during the summit, said his faith has been restored in Canada after Fenton’s guilty verdict. Shan Alavi, however, wonders why no one else has been held accountable.

The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms lists “freedom of peaceful assembly” as a fundamental freedom together with freedom of religion and freedom of association under s. 2.

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