G20 oversight dogged by poor communication, says report

Civilian oversight of police actions during the G20 summit was significantly hampered by inadequate communication by police, insufficient planning time and a top-down approach by the federal government, according to a new report.
A protester reacts to the riot police while marching along the streets of downtown Toronto during the G20 summit on June 26, 2010. (Nathan Denette/Canadian Press)

Civilian oversight of police actions during the G20 summit in Toronto was significantly hampered by inadequate communication, a top-down approach by the federal government, and the inability of a key oversight agency to assert its role, according to a new report.

The independent report, commissioned by the Toronto Police Services Board, a civilian body that oversees police actions, found that "the board became a mere bystander in a process it was supposed to lead."

The wide-ranging, 410-page report was due to be released Friday morning, but was inadvertently published online. The link has since been taken down.

"The hallmarks one would expect to see in putting together a major international security event — deliberation, co-operation, and sufficient time to plan — were absent," wrote the author of the report, retired judge John Morden.   

The report makes 38 recommendations, ranging from giving the police service board more power, to ensuring the board is better informed to creating a comprehensive policy on crowd control at mass demonstrations.

The report concludes that the Toronto Police Service did not get enough co-operation from Ottawa in planning for the G20 summit meeting of world leaders in June 2010, nor was it given enough time to sufficiently prepare.

The summit was marred by violent protests and the arrest of some 1,100 people, most of whom were released without being charged. Ontario's ombudsman called the arrests "the most massive compromise of civil liberties in Canadian history."

Police lost control of area outside fence

Much of the violence occurred on Saturday, June 26, when protesters torched police cars and smashed the windows of several downtown businesses along Yonge Street.

The Toronto Police Service was tasked with the management of two security zones: the interdiction zone, where a three-metre high security fence was erected around the area of the summit at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre on Front Street; and the area outside it.

As the report puts it, the interdiction zone fence was a "buffer" between the summit and the rest of the city and the protection of that zone became a "preoccupation" for police.

A man kicks a burning police car on June 26, 2010, during the G20 protests. (Ryan Remiorz/Canadian Press)

While police were focused on the interdiction zone, they were left with inadequate resources to deal with the violence and property damage taking place elsewhere.

This caused police to "lose control" of the area outside the fence, which is why the report says it was "a mistake" for Toronto police to prioritize protecting the interdiction zone.

According to the report, the Toronto police ended up asking the RCMP to take over policing of the interdiction zone so they could deal with the other problems in the city.

As this decision was made on the fly, it took time to arrange how this process would occur. Twelve hours passed before the RCMP agreed to take control of the interdiction zone.

"Given that violence and property damage were reasonably anticipated by the Toronto Police Service in planning for the G20 Summit, a contingency plan for the reallocation of officers and the transfer of command to the RCMP should have been prepared in advance of the event," the report says.

Toronto police 3rd in line

Morden's report says the city's police force was third in line to key information about the summit, which flowed from the federal government to the RCMP and finally to Toronto.

Toronto had to wait until the government decided where the event would be hosted in the city, before it could fully delve into the planning it needed to undertake.

But the government finalized the decision on the venue only four months before the summit. Partly due to these factors, the information relayed by Toronto police to the police services board was inadequate, according to the report.

"The board was left without a clear sense of the framework and plan for the policing of the summit," the report says.

According to the report, Toronto police would typically spend up to two years planning for an event as complicated as the G20, compared to the few months they ended up with.

The time crunch left Toronto police scrambling to ensure that appropriate funding, as well as equipment and facilities were available for the summit.

Had more time been made available for planning, the report says, the resulting policing shortcomings "would have been minimized."

However, the report also says that Toronto police Chief Bill Blair talked only about the timing challenges "in general terms" with the police board, noting his concern about the limited time that was available to plan policing for the summit.

Had the chief given "more detailed information" about his concerns, the board would have pressed Ottawa for information at an earlier point.

Police services board needed to do more

The report also takes the police services board to task for not asserting itself as an oversight agent. Blair was too often put in the position of being the gatekeeper of all information sent to the board.

The report found that the board misinterpreted its mandate, and was too sensitive in its interpretation of a section of the Police Services Act to not direct the chief on specific operational decision.

That sensitivity "has caused it to limit the nature of the information it seeks from the Toronto Police Service," the report says.

"Second, the board consistently struggles in knowing what questions it needs to ask the chief of police to ensure it has sufficient information to perform its  statutory functions."

The report recommends the board be more proactive in soliciting information from the chief of police, including information about specific policing strategies, and any proposed legislative changes.

The Toronto Police Services Board announced on Sept. 23, 2010, that it had appointed Morden to conduct an independent civilian review of the policing of the G20 summit.

The board wanted the review to look at specific aspects of the planning that occurred prior to the G20, as well as reviewing the information that was shared with the board during this period.

The review was also tasked with answering specific questions about police operations and the actions of officers during the summit itself.