The CCLA seeks to ensure that police powers are used in a manner that is necessary, proportionate and consistent with constitutional standards. Specific police powers that the CCLA has focussed on include detention and arrest, the use of force, and search and seizure.
Police Powers is part of the Public Safety program. You can find more information about it on its main program page.
By Cara Zwibel
on November 26, 2013
The federal government recently introduced Bill C-13, a law it says is aimed at addressing the problem of cyberbullying and the tragic teen suicides that have resulted from this problem. If passed into law, the Bill would amend the Criminal Code and other laws in a number of ways; first, by creating a new offence around distributing intimate images; and second by giving police officers a number of new investigative powers and tools to deal with online crime.
Unfortunately, these changes are unlikely to address the very real problem of cyberbullying and will intrude into Canadians’ privacy in new and concerning ways. Many of the proposed amendments are powers the government previously tried to introduce in their “lawful access” legislation, which was roundly criticized by the CCLA and other groups and which was ultimately abandoned. While Bill C-13 doesn’t go as far as earlier cybersurveillance bills, CCLA remains concerned about the new investigative powers and the impact they will have on personal privacy and freedom of expression. We are also concerned that the new offence related to the distribution of intimate images may be unduly broad and would like to see the Bill amended to make malicious intent an element of the offence.
CCLA will be doing a thorough review of Bill C-13 so check back with us for more details on the civil liberties impact of this proposal.
By Dora Chan
on October 21, 2013
Watch the above video to hear from CCLA’s Director of Public Safety Abby Deshman on G20 Toronto, policing at protests and You Should Have Stayed Home.
CCLA is partnering with Praxis Theatre throughout their National Tour of You Should Have Stayed Home, a performance piece about the largest peacetime mass arrest in Canadian history. Written by Tommy Taylor, the play is an award-winning account of what he and many others experienced when they were arrested and detained during the G20 Toronto Summit in June 2010. Starting this fall, Praxis Theatre will take this play on a Canada-wide tour to:
- Whitehorse, Yukon: Yukon Arts Centre, Sept 12-15 2013
- Vancouver, British Columbia: Firehall Arts Centre, Sept 24 -Oct 5, 2013
- Toronto, Ontario: Aki Theatre, Oct 16 -27, 2013
- Montréal, Quebec: Mainline Theatre, Oct 30 – Nov 2, 2013
- Ottawa, Ontario: Arts Court Theatre, November 13 -16, 2013
If you’re interested in getting involved and participating in the play, check out this call for volunteers here!
CCLA is helping Praxis Theatre to pull together panel discussions on broader issues facing civil liberties in several of the cities that the play will be hosted in. See below for details about the panels in Vancouver and Toronto:
TORONTO PANEL DETAILS
Post-show Panel Discussion on Civil liberties and protest in post-G20 Toronto
Where: Aki Studio Theatre @ Daniels Spectrum – 585 Dundas Street East.
When: Tuesday, October 22, 2013. Show @ 8pm panel @ 9:30pm.
Moderated by: Praxis Theatre Artistic Director Michael Wheeler
Abby Deshman – CCLA: Director, Public Safety Program
Abby first joined the CCLA as the Law Foundation of Ontario’s Pro-Bono Articling Fellow and stayed on as the Project Director of the Fundamental Freedoms Project. She graduated from the University of Toronto Law School with an Hons JD in 2008, and obtained an LLM from New York University in 2010. She is currently involved in all aspects of CCLA’s advocacy and educational programs.
Prior to joining the CCLA she worked with numerous local and international non-governmental organizations, including the United Nations High Council for Refugees in Kenya and Human Rights Watch’s Terrorism/Counterterrorism division in New York. She was also a case worker in the law school’s International Human Rights Clinic, where she worked primarily on international human rights and counterterrorism issues, including the Clinic’s intervention before the Supreme Court of Canada in the Khadr case.
Her previous work has also taken her to Nicaragua, Bangladesh, Belize and Peru. Although she loves Toronto, she is concerned about the lack of sun available during Canadian winters, and is therefore constantly on the lookout for inexpensive flights to combat incipient vitamin D deficiencies.
Jan Borowy – Cavalluzzo
Jan Borowy’s practice areas include labour relations, human rights, pay equity and professional regulation. Jan brings to her practice a longstanding commitment to the promotion of workers’ rights and human rights. Her experience gives her an understanding of the importance of a clear strategy in union negotiations, campaigns, strikes, organizing and educational programs.
Jan is the former Research Co-ordinator at the International Ladies’ Garment Workers Union, where her work focused on a campaign for fair wages and working conditions for garment home-workers. She further developed her advocacy skills as the Worker’s Rights Community legal worker at Parkdale Community Legal Services. At law school, Jan developed an expertise in Aboriginal law and issues facing Aboriginal workers.
Jan’s experience within the firm has included close involvement in the representation of private sector and public sector workers before labour arbitrators, the Ontario Human Rights Tribunal, the Pay Equity Tribunal and the Ontario and Canadian Labour boards. Jan is a member of the Canadian Association of Labour Lawyers and the Canadian and Ontario Bar Associations.
Tommy Taylor – Writer/Performer: You Should Have Stayed Home
Tommy is a theatre artist, activist and NGO fundraiser living in Toronto. Recently Tommy was assistant director/video designer on The Belle of Winnipeg (Dora Winner), adaptor/director of Dear Everybody at the CanStage Festival of Ideas and Creation and director of Kayak at The SummerWorks Festival. He is a graduate of the Centre for Cultural Management (University of Waterloo/ CCCO), The Vancouver Film School and Humber College’s Community Arts Development Program.
Tommy was arrested (but never charged) and detained during the 2010 G20 Summit in Toronto. He has since turned his account of the experience into You Should Have Stayed Home. The show is on a cross-Canada tour for Fall 2013, playing in Whitehorse, Vancouver, Toronto, Montreal and Ottawa.
VANCOUVER PANEL DETAILS
Post-show Panel Discussion on Civil Liberties, Activism and Surveillance
Where: Vancouver, BC – Firehall Arts Centre, 280 E Cordova St.
When: Thursday, October 3, 2013, following the 8pm performance
Moderated by: Neworld Theatre Founding Artistic Producer Camyar Chai
About the Panelists
Micheal Vonn is a lawyer and has been the Policy Director of the BC Civil Liberties Association since 2004. She has been an Adjunct Professor at the University of British Columbia (UBC) in the Faculty of Law and in the School of Library, Archival and Information Studies where she has taught civil liberties and information ethics. She is a regular guest instructor for UBC’s College of Health Disciplines Interdisciplinary Elective in HIV/AIDS Care and was honoured as a recipient of the 2010 AccolAIDS award for social and political advocacy benefitting communities affected by HIV/AIDS. Ms. Vonn is a frequent speaker on a variety of civil liberties topics including privacy, national security, policing, surveillance and free speech. She is an Advisory Board Member of Privacy International. bccla.org
Harsha Walia is a South Asian activist, writer, and researcher based in Vancouver, Coast Salish Territories. She has been active in grassroots social movements for over a decade, including with No One Is Illegal, Women’s Memorial March Committee for Missing and Murdered Women, Radical Desis and more. She was one of the many leading up to both the Anti-Olympics Convergence and the G20 Protests in 2010, facing arrests and trumped charges at both. Harsha has been named one of the most influential South Asians in BC by the Vancouver Sun and Naomi Klein has called Harsha “one of Canada’s most brilliant and effective political organizers.” Her first book Undoing Border Imperialism is forthcoming in November 2013 by AK Press. Find her @HarshaWalia.
Greg McMullen is a litigation associate with Branch MacMaster. He focuses on class action work concerning privacy and access to information. Greg was one of the organizers of the BCCLA’s Legal Observer Program during the 2010 Winter Olympics, which trained more than 400 citizen-observers to record police interactions with the public (and especially with protesters) during the 2010 Games. He is also on the Board of Directors of the BC Civil Liberties Association, and authored the BCCLA’s Electronic Devices Privacy Handbook.
Tommy Taylor is a theatre artist, activist and NGO fundraiser living in Toronto. Recently Tommy was assistant director/video designer on The Belle of Winnipeg (Dora Winner), adaptor/director of Dear Everybody at the CanStage Festival of Ideas and Creation and director of Kayak at The SummerWorks Festival. He is a graduate of the Centre for Cultural Management (University of Waterloo/ CCCO), The Vancouver Film School and Humber College’s Community Arts Development Program. Tommy was arrested (but never charged) and detained during the 2010 G20 Summit in Toronto. He has since turned his account of the experience into You Should Have Stayed Home. The show is on a cross-Canada tour for Fall 2013, playing in Whitehorse, Vancouver, Toronto, Montreal and Ottawa.
By Abby Deshman
on October 10, 2013
CCLA has joined with nine other domestic civil liberties and human rights organizations from around the world to release a report, “Take back the streets”: Repression and criminalization of protest around the world. Download the report here.
In June 2010, hundreds of thousands of Canadians took to the streets of Toronto to peacefully protest the G20 Summit, which was taking place behind a fortified fence that walled off much of the city’s downtown core. On the Saturday evening during the Summit weekend, a senior Toronto Police Commander sent out an order – “take back the streets.” Within a span of 36 hours, over 1000 people – peaceful protesters, journalists, human rights monitors and downtown residents – were arrested and placed in detention.
The title of this publication is taken from that initial police order. It is emblematic of a very concerning pattern of government conduct: the tendency to transform individuals exercising a fundamental democratic right – the right to protest – into a perceived threat that requires a forceful government response. The nine case studies detailed in this report, each written by a different domestic civil liberties and human rights organization, provide contemporary examples of different governments’ reactions to peaceful protests. They document instances of unnecessary legal restrictions, discriminatory responses, criminalization of leaders, and unjustifiable – at times deadly – force.
The ten organizations that have contributed to this publication work to defend basic democratic rights and freedoms in nine countries spread over four continents. Across the regions where our organizations operate, States are engaged in concerted efforts to roll back advances in the protection and promotion of human rights – and often, regressive measures impacting the right to protest follows in lockstep. And across the globe, social movements are pushing for change and resisting the advancement of authoritarian policies; dozens, hundreds, thousands or hundreds of thousands of individuals are marching in the roads and occupying the public space. In rural areas across the global south, there are a variety of demands, calling for access to land or resisting the exploitation of natural resources that threaten indigenous peoples’ or peasants’ territories. In urban settings, housing shortages or lack of basic services spark social protests and upheavals. Even in developed economies, there are disturbing tensions provoked by the contraction of the economy, globalization policies and the social and political exclusion of migrants. Students’ movements all over the globe are demanding the right to education.
History tells us that many of the fundamental rights we enjoy in our contemporary life were obtained after generations before us engaged in sustained protests in the streets: the prohibition against child labor, steps toward racial equality, women’s suffrage – to name just a few – were each accomplished with the help of public expression of these demands. If freedom of expression is the grievance system of democracies, the right to protest and peaceful assembly is democracy’s megaphone. It is the tool of the poor and the marginalized – those who do not have ready access to the levers of power and influence, those who need to take to the streets to make their voices heard.
Unfortunately, these are also rights that are frequently violated. Our organizations have witnessed numerous instances of direct state repression during protests: mass arrests, unlawful detentions, illegal use of force and the deployment of toxic chemicals against protesters and bystanders alike. At other times the state action is less visible: the increased criminalization of protest movements, the denial of march permits, imposition of administrative hurdles and the persecution and prosecution of social leaders and protesters.
This publication attempts to address some of the gaps in public debate about the state responsibility toward the protection of the right to protest and assembly. We relate nine case studies from the nine countries about how governments have responded to diverse kinds of protest and public assembly.
The cases, originating from Argentina, Canada, Egypt, Israel and the Occupied Territories, Kenya, Hungary, South Africa, the United Kingdom and the United States, each present a unique state reaction in a unique domestic context. They relate instances of excessive use of force resulting in injury and death, discriminatory treatment, criminalization of social leaders, and suppression of democratic rights through law, regulation and bureaucratic processes. And despite the fact that all the cases come from different countries, with different substantive debates and different social contexts, a number of common threads are identifiable.
A number of case studies document disproportionate and illegal use of force by police, resulting in hundreds of wounded and dead. The American Civil Liberties Union details the case of police brutality against protesters in Puerto Rico, recounting violent beatings and low-flying helicopters spraying toxic chemicals over hundreds of peaceful demonstrators. The Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights details six days in November 2011, when the police shot thousands of tear gas canisters directly into the crowds, resulting in numerous deaths due to asphyxiation, in addition to deaths caused by live fire and shotgun pellets. In one case, the police shot tear gas into a building and then sealed all the doors and windows, suffocating the people inside. In Kenya, police beatings and shootings around the 2013 election left several dead and dozens more injured. And in Argentina, the Centro de Estudios Legales y Sociales tells of police indiscriminately firing live ammunition to disperse of some of the poorest families from Buenos Aires, who had descended from the overcrowded outskirts of the city to peacefully occupy an open piece of land.
These cases collectively illustrate the use of lethal and deadly force in response to largely peaceful gatherings seeking to express social and political viewpoints. The deaths and injuries are caused both by the use of firearms with live ammunition, and also through the use of so-called “nonlethal” weapons – a term that we intentionally reject. The numbers of dead and injured due to the inhalation of tear gas and other less-lethal weapons clearly demonstrates the urgent need to clarify and expand the norms that regulate the use of these law enforcement tools. It is also striking that these documented acts of violence and repression are frequently compounded by a lack of accountability. Justice systems in multiple countries appear unwilling or unable to undertake the serious investigations necessary to hold powerful state actors accountable for their actions.
Several other chapters document the persecution or criminalization of those social leaders and community members that organize demonstrations. The Association for Civil Rights in Israel, for example, relates the struggles of community activist and West Bank resident Bassem Tamimi, who has spent over 13 months in jail for peaceful, expressive activities.
In Canada, the Canadian Civil Liberties Association sets out how a student leader was put on trial for contempt of court – and found guilty – after telling the media he thought it was legitimate for students to picket universities. And in Argentina, the social leaders who were essential to establishing dialogue with authorities during a critical point of social crisis were afterwards prosecuted. Their participation in official negotiations was used as evidence that they were capable of controlling others involved in the event, and that they had instigated others to commit crimes.
These cases demonstrate how the justice system not only frequently fails to provide accountability for the illegal acts committed by law enforcement, but can also at times act as a repressive force toward demonstrators and social organizations. Too often, those individuals who are courageous enough to lead peaceful opposition or voice dissent must also be brave enough to face subsequent prosecution and detention from government authorities. It is difficult to calculate the chilling impact such prosecutions have on current and future leaders of social movements.
The post-9/11 context has also made a mark on governments’ reactions to societal dissent. Many countries have introduced broad anti-terrorist laws, and as time passes there is an increasing risk that these tools of interrogation, arrest, search and detention will be redirected toward peaceful political activity and domestic dissent. The case study from Liberty provides one example of how the United Kingdom’s counterterrorism laws were applied to peaceful anti-arms protesters. It was only during Liberty’s case challenging the abuse of these search powers that the UK public discovered that the whole of Greater London had been subject to a multiyear, high-level terrorism designation giving police officers significantly enhanced powers of search and detention. The fact that this discretionary power was disproportionately and arbitrarily used against blacks, Asians, and individuals from other visible minority communities should not come as a surprise.
Finally, the case studies from the Hungarian Civil Liberties Union and South Africa’s Legal Resources Centre demonstrate how the very existence of laws regulating the exercise of the right to protest can facilitate the denial of rights and discrimination. In both countries, community groups had to go to the courts to force the government to facilitate their basic democratic rights. Laws that give authorities a measure of discretion can be applied or interpreted in a manner that restricts or limits the impact of the expression or actions of social groups – and in particular those groups that are vulnerable or likely to be subjected to discrimination. It is clear that, when faced with the potential disruption or inconvenience that is inevitably caused by protest, governments too often react by seeking to ban the demonstration, rather than accommodate it.
All the cases presented show the integral role played by civil society organizations in protecting these fundamental democratic rights. Each organization that has contributed to this publication recognizes that a democratic society must not only tolerate, but actively facilitate, social participation and protest. And each organization actively operates on the premise that, no matter the underlying cause or issue, individuals’ and groups’ right to protest must be protected. Dissenting voices must be heard. And they must be given the space – both legal and physical – to do so.
Recommendation 1: Increase regulation of less-lethal weapons
• Governments should establish and enhance domestic and international regulatory frameworks to control police use of less-lethal weapons, with particular attention to limits on deployment during protest
• Thorough, independent, scientific testing of less-lethal weapons should occur prior to deployment to establish lethality and health impacts
• Strict deployment guidelines and training must be implemented based on thorough, independent scientific studies, and reviewed regularly to ensure compliance and currency
Recommendation 2: Increase precision and clarity regarding the scope of human rights protection for protests
• States should explicitly affirm even protests that are strictly “unlawful” are equally protected by the right to freedom of peaceful assembly
• States should explicitly recognize that individuals who are exercising their peaceful assembly rights continue to receive protection, even when other individuals within a crowd commit acts of violence
• Government statements on the limits of peaceful assembly should be accompanied by an affirmation that other human rights norms, including limits on state use of force, remain relevant
Recommendation 3: Increase attention to, and vigilance of, legal and administrative limitations on the right to protest
• States should review domestic legislation to ensure that any administrative or legal regulations that could restrict protest are demonstrably necessary and proportionate
• All legislation that could restrict protest should explicitly state that the role of the state is to facilitate the right to protest
• Governments should carefully monitor the operation of these laws and policies to ensure they are not being implemented in a discriminatory or unnecessarily restrictive manner
About the Report
This document has been produced by a group of ten domestic human rights organizations which cooperate as the International Network of Civil Liberties Organizations (INCLO). Each organization is multi-issue, multiconstituency, domestic in focus, and independent of government. We advocate on behalf of all persons in our respective countries through a mix of litigation, legislative campaigning, public education and grass-roots advocacy.
The nine organizations that participated in the preparation of this report are the American Civil Liberties Union, the Association for Civil Rights in Israel, the Canadian Civil Liberties Association, Centro de Estudios Legales y Sociales (Argentina), the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights, the Hungarian Civil Liberties Union, the Kenyan Human Rights Commission, the Legal Resources Centre (South Africa), and Liberty (United Kingdom). The tenth member of INCLO, the Irish Council for Civil Liberties, contributed editorially to the report.
By Abby Deshman
on September 27, 2013
The Supreme Court released its decisions in R. v. MacKenzie and R. v. Chehil this morning, a pair of cases involving police searches with sniffer dogs and the ‘reasonable suspicion’ standard. CCLA is concerned that the Court’s general formulation of the reasonable suspicion standard – that the evidence must support a possibility of criminal behaviour in light of the circumstances – sets a very low bar for authorizing police detentions and searches. Moreover, while a number of CCLA’s points were reflected in the Court’s broad statement of principles, the application of principles in these appeals gives rise to serious concerns about courts’ ability to meaningfully scrutinize and restrain police behaviour in such circumstances.
Currently under Canadian law, police are authorized to conduct a warrantless sniffer dog search if they have a ‘reasonable suspicion’ that an individual is involved in criminal activity. CCLA had argued that a rigorous, restrictive approach must be taken when examining the content of the ‘reasonable suspicion’ standard. As Justice Binnie stated in the first Supreme Court case that considered this issue, the court’s after-the-fact examination of police conduct is the only protection an individual has against this particular form of unlawful searches. CCLA urged the Court to clarify that the police must be able to offer objectively-verifiable evidence, and a proven link between ‘suspicious’ facts they observed and crime. Over-reliance on generalized malleable ’profiles’ of criminals or unsupported assertions of police expertise opens the door to stereotyping and profiling. Assertion of rights – in particular the right to silence – must not be used to contribute to an officer’s ‘reasonable suspicion’. And finally, the number of innocent people who could be falsely caught up in warrantless searches and detentions must also be taken into consideration.
The unanimous judgment in Chehil does reflect a number of CCLA’s points. In particular, the Court held that exercise of Charter rights should not provide grounds for reasonable suspicion, and that stereotyping and discriminatory factors have “no place” in the reasonable suspicion analysis. The Court also affirmed that a “police officer’s educated guess must not supplant … rigorous and independent scrutiny” and that “[a] method of searching that captures an inordinate number of innocent individuals cannot be reasonable, due to the unnecessary infringement of privacy and personal dignity that an arrest would bring.” CCLA also welcome’s the Court’s rejection of the government’s arguments that individuals do not enjoy a reasonable expectation of privacy in airports.
The application of these principles, however, gives a potentially alarming latitude to the police to stop, search and detain private individuals. In the MacKenzie case, the trial judge had concluded that there was not enough to support a ‘reasonable suspicion’ that Mr. MacKenzie was trafficking drugs. The trial court’s summary of the officer’s reasons for suspicion included “the driver’s “very high level of nervousness”; … the pinkish hue of the driver’s eyes, which in the police officer’s opinion is consistent with the use of marihuana; and the course of travel of the driver, which was from Calgary to Regina.” Although the officer testified that Calgary was a known source of narcotics and Regina was a known destination of sale, no evidence was offered to support that opinion. The BC Court of Appeal overturned the trial court, ruling that the officer’s observations were enough to support a “reasonable suspicion” that Mr. MacKenzie was trafficking drugs. Similarly, in the Chehil case, the “reasonable suspicion” was based on the observations that Mr. Chehil was travelling alone, that he had bought a one-way ticket from Vancouver to Halifax at the airline counter using cash, and that he had checked a relatively new, locked suitcase. Again, the trial judge found there was not enough objective evidence to support a reasonable suspicion, and the Nova Scotia Court of Appeal overturned the ruling.
The majority of the Supreme Court held that, in both cases, the searches were justified based on the officers’ observations, training and experience. CCLA is concerned that the vague, broad nature of the ‘evidence’ upholding the searches in these cases will open the door to police conducting searches and detentions of vast numbers of innocent individuals. The Association particularly agrees with the strong dissent in MacKenzie, that the ‘evidence’ identified by the police officer should not have been sufficient to support a privacy-intrusive search. Although we will need to wait for future cases to determine how the standard is being interpreted and applied by lower courts, CCLA is concerned that the majority’s application of principles to the facts will open the door for the police to engage in speculative searches and detentions based on generalized suspicion and after-the-fact justifications.
To read the Court’s decision in Chehil click here.
To read the Court’s decision in MacKenzie click here.
To read the CCLA’s factum in the appeal click here.
By Peter Goffin
on September 13, 2013
Yesterday, Toronto Const. Babak Andalib-Goortani became the first police officer convicted of criminal charges stemming from the 2010 G20. Const. Andalib-Goortani had caught on video by a bystander, beating protestor Adam Nobody at the demonstration three years ago. Nobody was already on the ground, restrained by several other officers.
As a leading voice on police accountability in Canada, CCLA has spoken to several media outlets about Andalib-Goortani’s conviction.
“[Charges against police] are a fundamental part of the accountability process,” CCLA Public Safety Program Director Abby Deshman told The Toronto Star. “They are oftentimes the only response to police misconduct, so disciplinary charges are the meat of where police discipline happens.”
Abby also appeared in a TV interview with CTV News to comment on the story.
The 2010 G20 was a major turning point in the way Canadians perceive their relationship with police. The police response to protests constituted the largest peacetime mass arrest in Canadian history. In the years since, CCLA has worked tirelessly to bring to light, and learn from, police conduct during the G20 Summit which we have determined was, at times, disproportionate, arbitrary and excessive.
In 2010, we released a preliminary report on policing and security at the G20, based on first-hand observations from more than 50 human rights monitors.
We also broke down the events of the G20 protests, arrests, and aftermath in an awesome infographic that you can check out right here.
This fall, G20 detainee Tommy Taylor is taking his play You Should Have Stayed Home on a cross-Canada tour. The show details Taylor’s experience as a bystander caught up in the mass arrests and sent to a packed cell in the Eastern Avenue Detention Centre. Ten per cent of all funds raised by the play will be donated directly to the Canadian Civil Liberties Association.
For a comprehensive collection of CCLA’s work on the G20, click here.
By Peter Goffin
on August 28, 2013
Yesterday morning, the Ontario Government announced it would expand the use of Tasers by police across the province. CCLA responded swiftly with a media release detailing our concerns with the decision. Our position was quoted by several news sources including CBC, The Toronto Sun, Global News, and The Globe and Mail.
But we also asked our followers and friends on social media to weigh in with their own thoughts on the issue. Here’s what some of you had to say:
“[Increased Taser use is] neither good nor bad. Like any tool it is how it is used and the professionalism of the user #tasers.”
-Mike Hanlon (@HanlonMike)
“Must we be faced with choosing between two evils?? Police’s strongest weapon should be communication #taser”
-Patti G (@truthnottasers)
“If you read @cancivlib’s release, a concern is misuse & higher standards of use. More complex than simple choice.”
-Marco Campana (@marcopolis)
“Why do they feel this is necessary in a country where crime rate[s] are low and falling? I fear that Canada is becoming a police state.”
-Susan Melissa Chivers (via Facebook)
How do you feel about the increased deployment of Tasers amongst Ontario police? Tweet your opinions to us @cancivlib, or post them to our Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/cancivlib.
By Peter Goffin
on August 27, 2013
On August 27, 2013, the Ontario government announced its decision to expand Conducted Energy Weapon (CEW) deployment amongst the police forces in the province. As a leading voice on rights and freedoms in Canada, CCLA responded to the announcement with the following media release:
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
CCLA: Government focus should be on police de-escalation techniques, not expanded Taser use
Toronto – August 27, 2013 - The Canadian Civil Liberties Association is concerned about the Ontario government’s decision to authorize expanded Conducted Energy Weapon (CEW) deployment. CCLA urges police forces instead to invest in de-escalation training, and mental health and disability crisis response teams, rather than additional weaponry.
“CCLA has long-standing concerns about the safety and appropriate uses of CEWs,” said Sukanya Pillay, interim General Counsel. ”We recognize that in certain extreme cases there may be legitimate law enforcement uses of CEWs, for example to prevent imminent harm or death. However, CCLA is also aware and seriously concerned that CEWs have been misused in the past. Government focus should be on police receiving improved training and building skill sets to de-escalate crises, rather than expanding weapons deployment.”
Ontario’s use of force standard for CEW deployment is already more permissive than the standard recommended by the Braidwood Commission which investigated the death of Robert Dziekański. The Commission greenlighted the use of CEWs only in cases of imminent risk of serious harm or injury, and only when de-escalation or crisis intervention techniques would not be effective. CCLA has repeatedly urged the Ontario government to adopt the higher Braidwood Commission standard.
CCLA is further concerned about the impact this decision will have on individuals with mental health and addictions issues. These individuals who, studies suggest, are more likely to be Tasered, are also at higher risk for serious injury and death in connection with Taser use. We are also concerned about those individuals with non-visible disabilities – such as hearing loss – who may be mistakenly perceived as not complying with police orders.
There have been recent reports of abusive Taser use, Taser-related injuries and death in Ontario. In June 2013, a Coroner’s Inquest into the death of Aron Firman, a man with schizophrenia who died of cardiac arrhythmia after being Tasered, recommended “additional and meaningful awareness training for officers dealing with persons affected by mental illness”, and examining existing crisis response teams with a view to their expansion where they would “enhance response and support to individuals with mental health challenges.” Just last year, a Toronto police officer was demoted for pushing his Taser into the crotch of a handcuffed prisoner, and threatening to Taser him in the genitals. In April 2013, an Ontario judge berated police officers for their violent and unjustified pre-emptive Tasering of a mental health patient.
“CCLA will be closely monitoring expanded CEW deployment,” said Pillay. “In our view, resolution through de-escalation should be the goal. Increasing deployment of CEWs opens the door to increased use and misuse of CEWs – these should not become default weapons – use of CEWs can only be permissible in very strict circumstances as set out by the Braidwood Commission. We must always be mindful that Tasers are harmful weapons and the risk of excessive and unjustified force resulting in unnecessary serious injury is real.”
While CCLA has never advocated for an outright ban on CEWs, the organization has for years insisted that these weapons be subject to appropriate use of force restrictions, specifying effective limits on CEW use, training, reporting and oversight.
CCLA has specifically urged the Ontario government to take additional measures to prevent abuse of CEWs – including government adoption of he Braidwood use of force standard for CEWs – before authorizing expanded deployment of CEWs. After extensive review of CEW usage, the Braidwood Inquiry recommended that CEW use be restricted to situations where “the subject is causing bodily harm or the officer is satisfied, on reasonable grounds, that the subject’s behaviour will imminently cause bodily harm” and an officer is “satisfied, on reasonable grounds, that no lesser force option would be effective, and de-escalation and/or crisis intervention techniques would not be effective.” The Ministry’s current use of force threshold is considerably lower than the Braidwood standard. CCLA also recommended additional and particularized mental health and disabilities sensitivity training for police officers who carry Tasers.
Previous CCLA work and briefs on Tasers includes:
April 7, 2011: “CCLA Urges RCMP to Change Policy on Use of Tasers against Children,” http://ccla.org/2011/04/27/ccla-urges-rcmp-to-change-policy-on-use-of-tasers-against-children/
February 2, 2010: “CCLA Seeks Meeting with Minister of Justice on National Standards for Tasers,” http://ccla.org/2010/02/02/ccla-seeks-meeting-with-minister-of-justice-on-national-standards-for-tasers/
January 25, 2010: “CCLA Brief: A Measured Approach to Conducted Energy Weapons,” http://ccla.org/wordpress/wp-content/uploads/2010/02/2010-01-25-CCLA-Brief-re-National-CEW-Policy.pdf
August 19, 2009: “CCLA Pushes for Measured CEW Policy in Saskatchewan,” http://ccla.org/2009/08/19/ccla-pushes-for-measured-cew-policy-in-saskatchewan/
January 9, 2008: “CCLA to Ontario’s Minister of Community Safety Re: TASERS,” http://ccla.org/2008/01/09/ccla-to-ontarios-minister-of-community-safety-re-tasers/
By Noa Mendelsohn Aviv
on July 4, 2013
CCLA has provided submissions to the Toronto Police Services Board, urging the Board to put a stop to the police practice of random “street checks” (also known as carding). In addition, CCLA objected to delays in the provision of data and reports on these topics to the Board, given that this information is needed for transparency and accountability with respect to police practices and concerns about racial profiling.
CCLA has been before the Toronto Police Services Board numerous times in the past year to address concerns about racial profiling, and continues to call for an end to random stops, and better tools for transparency and accountability with respect to police conduct.
To read CCLA’s latest submissions, click here.
By Noa Mendelsohn Aviv
on April 25, 2013
The Canadian Civil Liberties Association has filed submissions with the Toronto Police Services Board to address racial profiling, and has set out the Association’s position on “street checks.” In its submissions, CCLA states that police stops, demands and recording of a person’s identity without an investigative or legitimate policing purpose (“community engagement” does not qualify as a legitimate purpose) is an unjustified and unconstitutional violation of individuals’ fundamental rights. CCLA also demands that if individuals are stopped and questioned by police, they should be provided with a copy of information recorded about them (subject to reasonable exclusions). The receipt proposed by the Toronto Police Service (in Form 306) does not sastisfy this. CCLA has addressed the Board previously on the issue of racial profiling, street checks, and Form 306.
To read CCLA’s submissions, click here.
By Cara Zwibel
on April 22, 2013
CCLA has written to Montreal Councillor Alex Norris who planned to introduce a motion to repeal Montreal’s controversial bylaw: P-6. The bylaw requires individuals to provide prior notice to police of their meeting places and demonstration itineraries regardless of the size of the planned protest and without making any exceptions for spontaneous assemblies. The bylaw also prohibits individuals from wearing facial coverings at a public demonstration without reasonable cause. The bylaw has been used to clamp down on peaceful protests before they have even gotten underway and individuals have received tickets of over $600 each. CCLA wrote to Montreal’s City Council in May of 2012 when the amendments to the bylaw were first considered and passed. With recent mass arrests taking place under the bylaw, CCLA has again written to the City expressing its concerns and arguing for the need to protect fundamental freedoms, including the freedom to peacefully assemble and freedom of expression.
See CCLA’s letter regarding the motion to repeal P-6 in English here and in French here.