More than 1,000 people arrested in large groups and held in "inhumane conditions" at a makeshift detention centre during the 2010 G20 summit in Toronto won the right to proceed with two class-action lawsuits against police authorities Wednesday.
The Ontario Court of Appeal approved the two class actions over "kettling" — confining scores of people at downtown Toronto intersections for several hours — and alleged civil rights abuses that occurred nearly six years ago during the three-day global summit.
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The court's decision emphasizes that police cannot arrest a group of civilians "as a way of 'fishing' for particular individuals." It also highlights the role these class actions would play in forcing police behaviour to change.
I lost faith in the police. - Sherry Good, plaintiff
"There have been non-binding recommendations before but now we have binding legal process, which can actually make changes happen," counsel Kent Elson told CBC News.
The lawsuits allege people were mass-arrested indiscriminately and held in "inhumane conditions" at a detention centre located inside an unused film studio on Eastern Avenue.
"What happened to them was terrible. They were arrested without cause," Elson said. "That shouldn't happen in a democratic country like ours."
These are the first class actions involving group arrests to be certified in the province.
'Prove … this will never happen again'
Lawyer Eric Gillespie said the "groundbreaking" decision could help guard the basic freedoms of all Canadians.
He noted that in the wake of the event many of the reforms recommended have not been implemented.
"This decision may help move in that direction," he said.
Elson said it could lead to the disclosure of confidential police documents and tapes about what happened during that weekend, as well as "positive reforms about policing."
"What we're trying to do is make sure the spread of [kettling] is stopped," he said.
Following the decision, lead plaintiff Sherry Good said she was delighted and called on police to make changes and "prove to us that this will never happen again."
Good was among dozens of people "kettled" at Queen Street and Spadina Avenue for 4½ hours in torrential rain.
"It was extremely scary."
"I lost faith in the police. I lost faith in our charter."
Good said she wants to see consequences for those responsible and police reforms.
Tommy Taylor, the other lead plaintiff representing those sent to the east-end Toronto detention centre, likened the arrests and conditions as being "treated worse than animals in a zoo."
"We want justice to be served. We don't want this to happen to any other Canadian, ever again," he said.
Taylor was held for 24 hours and released without charge.
"I actually passed out begging for water," he said.
"For Canada, it was a pretty big failure, pretty dehumanizing experience."
Originally ruled against
The Toronto police board wanted the Appeal Court to quash the class proceedings, which had already been subject to two lower court rulings.
A judge had originally ruled against certifying a class action, but that was overturned on an initial appeal to Ontario's Divisional Court, which instead split the action in two.
In August, Supt. Mark Fenton was found guilty of discreditable conduct and unnecessary exercise of authority in connection with ordering two mass arrests during that weekend.
In a statement Wednesday, Andy Pringle, the chair of the Toronto police board, said the board will review the decision and consider its options.
"We are committed to continuing to participate in this legal process as it moves forward."