Michael Enright's Weekly Essay

October 17, 2010

Michael was away on assignment this week, and will return Sunday October 24th with his weekly essay.

At the time, it was the largest mass arrest in the country's history.

But it was small potatoes compared to the arrests made in Toronto during the G20 summit in June. More than 1,100 people were arrested and hauled into a makeshift jail in the city's east end.

Among those arrested; reporters, tourists, a man carrying toy jousting sticks, a young girl carrying eye wash in her knapsack, newspaper photographers, the curious and the carefree.

There were 304 people charged, most of those were kicked out in court. The cases were weak to say the least. Crown attorneys were reduced to making plea bargains with the accused for minimal fines.

In the weeks leading up to the summit, a farce and fiasco on every level, senior police officials held press conferences warning citizens of the coming scourge of anarchists and hooligans.

A huge impenetrable fence surrounded the downtown summit site.

At times CBC employees were kept trapped inside the fence for no discernible offence; some had to sleep in the building.

Because senior police officials had worked up serious riot scenarios before the summit, by the time the G20 arrived, confrontation was inevitable.

There were scattered but nonetheless serious outbreaks of vandalism that last weekend in June.

There was in fact a small band of thugs intent of wreaking as much damage as possible.

But with more than 20,000 heavily armed riot cops in the streets, much of the damage was contained.

CBC reporters were issued expensive gas masks and as a veteran of the Battle of Lincoln Park in Chicago, 1968, I can tell you this was absolutely the wrong approach.

Rule One in covering confrontations between police and protesters - never wear a gas mask. The cops think you're a demonstrator and take appropriate action and the demonstrators think you're a cop and do likewise.

At one point in the weekend nearly a thousand citizens were forced to stand for hours in the pouring rain, surrounded by baton-wielding police.

Among those arrested was a 30-year-old man named Alexander Hundert.

He has been described, variously, by authorities as a ringleader, protest organizer and conspirator. He was charged with, among other things, conspiracy to commit an indictable offense.

After being held for a month, Hundert was granted bail, $100,000. Bail conditions were strict including a prohibition against attending any police demonstrations until his case was resolved.

On September 17th, he took part in a panel discussion at Ryerson University on the subject of the G20 disturbances.

The police took his appearance on the panel as a violation of his bail conditions and Hundert was again arrested.

The panel, the cops and Crown said, was a public political demonstration.

How a panel discussion in a university can be described as a political demonstration is beyond me---and most legal observers.

In court on Thursday, the Crown Attorney brandished a dictionary to arrive at a precise definition of a demonstration.

On Friday, the court unbelievably decided that, yes, appearing on a university panel was the equivalent of taking part in a demonstration.

The crown, again unaccountably, moved to revoke Mr. Hundert's $100,000 bail and have him kept in jail.

Remember there is no evidence that Mr. Hundert is a flight risk or is a danger to anyone or committed any violent act.

Apparently wife beaters can get bail easier than Mr. Hundert.

The story of what happened to civil rights that June weekend in Toronto goes beyond Mr. Hundert and his legal problems.

Several official investigations will try to probe what happened.

They will, it is to be hoped, determine if the police have somehow gotten into the habit of equating legitimate protest and dissent with street violence and conspiracy.

Toronto has one of the best cops in the country as police chief in Bill Blair.

He is smart, tough, honest and community minded.

But something went very wrong with his police force back in June.

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