About the Issue
Canadians come into contact with the police every day—whether as victims, witnesses, suspects, or simply as members of the public. How we are treated by the police, the rights we are afforded in these interactions, and the remedies we can expect when our rights are violated by those with power is a reflection of the health of our democracy. Police have unique powers in our society, including the ability to use force. These powers demand great scrutiny and oversight from the public in order to ensure that individuals and communities are treated with respect and dignity. In order to effectively ensure that police and other government actors do not abuse the powers they have been given over citizens, it is essential to have reliable systems of accountability in place.
Why This Matters
Those who wield power and enforce the law must also be subject to the law. Police officers are vested with an enormous amount of responsibility, and an enormous amount of power to carry out those responsibilities. Police powers can dramatically limit basic freedoms we take for granted in a democratic society. Police are given powers to stop, detain, question, search and arrest individuals. They are issued firearms and can use force, including lethal force, in carrying out their duties. In order to have an effective, trusted, and professional police force, there must be clear and strong limits on police powers to detain, search, arrest, use physical force, and otherwise curtail individual rights. In order to make these legal limits meaningful, we must have effective oversight and accountability regimes to ensure that those who wield power are also subject to it.
CCLA actively works towards strong, clear and balanced legal limits on police powers, as well as a robust accountability system to ensure that police misconduct is addressed and remedied in a fair and impartial manner. We have appeared before the Supreme Court in dozens of cases to urge meaningful, fair limits on police powers to detain, search, and interrogate individuals in a manner that reconciles the need to protect the public and investigate crimes with individuals’ basic rights. CCLA has worked extensively on issues related to police use of force, and in particular the use of force against individuals in crisis. We have similarly fought for limits on deployment of new weaponry without sufficient testing or oversight. Our fight for independent and robust police oversight has spanned decades, and includes fighting for the establishment of the first independent police oversight bodies, multiple submissions to commissions of inquiry, initiation of legal actions and appellate court appearances.
Although Canada’s various police oversight mechanisms are far from perfect, systems ensuring independence and transparency have evolved radically since CCLA first began its advocacy efforts. We now have several independent bodies that investigate possible criminal acts by police officers, alongside civilian-run complaints processes and greater fairness and transparency in disciplinary proceedings. In recent years, we have supported litigation to ensure that independent police investigative bodies are held to high standards of fairness and transparency when they deal with complaints. Our appearances before the Supreme Court of Canada have resulted in decisions which have reinforced the strength of these investigative bodies and maintained meaningful access to civil remedies related to police misconduct. Where oversight mechanisms have been insufficient and ineffective, we have pushed for—and achieved—legislative reforms.
Between June 25 and 27 2010, downtown Toronto hosted the G20 summit, the largest political meeting in Canada’s history. Thousands of international dignitaries gathered in the heart of the city to discuss key questions of international importance. Their presence attracted hundreds of journalists and reporters, as well as large numbers of individuals wanting to express their points of view regarding government policy. Within a span of 48 hours, over 1,000 people were arrested and detained—the biggest mass arrest in Canadian peacetime history. Those who were arrested were for the most part peaceful protesters, bystanders, human rights monitors, journalists, and others who had not committed any crime. The Canadian Civil Liberties Association has been actively involved in the fight for accountability in policing and governance before, during, and especially after the G20 Summit. Court cases continue to this day—learn more here.