'Gross violations of civil liberties by authorities requires that a federal public inquiry be called.' - Paul Cavalluzzo.
Toronto (12 Nov. 2010) - “Canada has rarely seen such shocking and appalling disrespect for the fundamental principles of law as during the G20,” says Paul Cavalluzzo, a respected labour lawyer and board member of the Canadian Foundation on Labour Rights (CFHR).
Cavalluzzo’s remarks were made at hearings on the mass arrests and police violence that occurred last June at the G20 summit in Toronto. The hearings have been organized by the National Union of Public and General Employees (NUPGE) and the Canadian Civil Liberties Association (CCLA).
|Paul Cavalluzzo at G20 hearings in Toronto.|
Cavalluzzo addressed what he called a “significant undermining" of three fundamental principles of laws that also uphold important Canadian values: "transparency, accountability and rule of law."
He was also critical of an “absolute lack of transparency” by the Ontario cabinet in passing a regulation under the World War II legislation, the Public Works Protection Act, giving police arbitrary and unrestrained powers to arrest without a warrant.
The use of the act in this fashion would not stand up to a constitutional challenge in the courts, Cavalluzzo said.
“This regulation was passed in secret by cabinet without any public pronouncement. It only came to public attention a few days before the G20 when someone was arrested for the first time under the legislation.”
Cavalluzzo said that when the CCLA and other groups met with the police in the weeks leading up to the summit to deal with the scope of potential protests, no mention of the regulation was made.
"I was dealing with them as their lawyer. At no time was I advised. I would have challenged the constitutionality of this legislation if I had been advised,” Cavalluzzo said.
On the second principle of accountability, Cavalluzzo said “the government failed miserably.”
“What I saw after the G20 weekend was the chief of the Toronto Police Service (TPS) justifying what the police did and the powers they were given under the law. It's up to the politicians to justify why they gave them these powers."
Neither the premier nor the attorney general's office would answer questions following the G20, he noted. Their explanation that it was "a police matter' was a "nonsensical justification" at the time, Cavalluzzo argued, adding that "there has not been to this day political accountability for what's occurred."
He also discussed the rule of law and one of the main tenets of the justice system – that police may only detain a citizen on reasonable and probable grounds that the individual has committed an offence.
“These kinds of restraints are necessary on the police or we will be a police state. The end doesn't justify the means.... we had hundreds of innocent people detained and not charged,” Cavalluzzo said.
“The kind of excessive and arbitrary power that the police exercised is shocking and appalling in this day and age. What is more shocking is that no one has come forward to be accountable for this (abuse) of the rule of law. Civil liberties should not be suspended. The police said this was unexpected. It was not. They simply over-reacted to the events”.
Federal inquiry needed
Cavalluzzo told of a young lawyer with his firm who was stationed outside a detention centre in order to advise people who were arrested of their legal rights. The lawyer was also arrested and put in a small cell with 24 other people, Cavalluzzo said.
"His hands were tied for 20 hours. He was given three small cups of water and wasn't allowed to call counsel or his parents to tell them that he was in jail. All the while he was taunted by the police, 'Have you learned your lesson?'' Cavalluzzo said.
"For what?" he asked. "For giving someone legal advice?”
Cavalluzzo said a federal independent public inquiry should be called to investigate what happened at the summit. An inquiry is needed not only to ensure accountability in the wake of the appalling events that occurred but to ensure that no government in the future will again "gamble with the freedoms we take for granted.”
The National Union of Public and General Employees (NUPGE) is one of Canada's largest labour organizations with over 340,000 members. Our mission is to improve the lives of working families and to build a stronger Canada by ensuring our common wealth is used for the common good. NUPGE
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