Police violated people's right to protest during Quebec G7, report suggests

The police presence in Quebec City and at La Malbaie during the G7 leaders meeting in June is once again being denounced by human rights groups for being excessive and intimidating.

'The protests took place amid a climate of fear and intimidation,' says rights group

Riot police officers march after breaking up a demonstration during the G7 summit in Quebec City on June 8. (Darren Calabrese/Canadian Press)

The police presence in Quebec City and at La Malbaie during the G7 leaders meeting in June is once again being denounced by human rights groups for being excessive and intimidating. 

A report released Wednesday by Amnesty International and the Quebec nonprofit Ligue des droits et libertés found there was a disproportionate number of police officers compared to protesters in the city during the summit, which was held in the Charlevoix region. 

The Ligue said the number of officers and level to which they were armed hindered people's ability to protest. 

"The protests took place amid a climate of fear and intimidation and that climate prevailed during the whole summit," Nicole Fillion, a spokesperson for the Ligue, told Radio-Canada.

Fillion and Geneviève Paul, who heads Amnesty International's French-language division, presented the report at a joint news conference in Montreal Wednesday. 

They said the intimidation by police during the summit follows a worldwide trend of attempting to dissuade protests from happening during meetings held by state officials.

"Political and police authorities completely flouted their obligation to protect and encourage the exercise of civil liberties, including the right to protest, during the G7," Fillion said.

A police officer interacts with a woman as an anti-G7 demonstration passes by in Quebec City on June 7, ahead of the G7 summit. (Chris Young/Canadian Press)

The two organizations have requested meetings with Martin Coiteux, provincial public security minister, and want police to follow a series of measures to increase transparency.

The report follows one released last month by a group of independent observers, which said the excessive presence of police could have had a chilling effect on freedom of expression and peaceful assembly.  

Protesters outnumbered

Wednesday's report was drafted with the accounts of about 40 observers commissioned by Amnesty International as well as from witnesses and protesters who were in Quebec City and La Malbaie during the summit.

There were about two to three times more police officers on the ground in Quebec City compared to the number of protesters at any given time, said Paul.

The extent of the police presence did not decrease after the first day of protests, Paul said, when it became clear the anti-G7 demonstrations would be small and tame. Less than 200 people protested on the first day.

"Peaceful protesters faced a police presence that was completely excessive and disproportionate," she said.

Police kettled groups of protesters at least three times, she added, a tactic she called abusive and uncalled for, given the demonstrators' lack of violence. 

Officers also pointed cameras toward the protesters, and conducted searches and asked for identification as protesters exited demonstration areas, Paul said.

Those actions could have a chilling effect on people's desire to protest in the future out of fear of being targeted for having been present during the summit demonstrations.

Arrested protesters held up to 60 hours

The report also denounces the conditions faced by the 10 protesters who were arrested during the summer. 

It claims they were denied access to a telephone while in custody, violating their right to access a lawyer. They were detained for the duration of the summit.

Some were held for up to 60 hours, which the report says is a disproportionate amount of time for the charges they faced of participating in an illegal protest.

The report also takes issue with the fact the protest was only deemed illegal because no itinerary was provided beforehand. 

CBC reached out to all three levels of police present — Quebec City police, Quebec provincial police and the RCMP — but none were immediately able to provide comment. 

Quebec City police said it would be reviewing the report.