Protest Rights and the G20 Summit

The issue

The G20 (or Group of 20) Summit is an international forum for world leaders to gather and discuss issues including policy and global financial stability which are pressing in the world today. 

Between June 25th and 27th, 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. 

The protests that occur in response to the G20 Summit circle around the concern that the topics of discussion between the nations remain largely focused on the “capitalist” agenda and does not take immediate issues of the public into consideration. Issues surrounding social stability, environmental concerns and the needs of those who are impoverished are often put on the back burner. 

In spite of a massive security budget (nearly 1 billion dollars), policing during the G20 summit took a turn as more than 1,000 people were arrested in what turned out to be the biggest mass arrest in Canadian history. 

It is our opinion that Canadians deserve to know why the security failed to fulfill its role to protect the right to protest, which brings together a number of basic civil liberties including freedom of expression, freedom of association and freedom of peaceful assembly. The voices of the most vulnerable and marginalized groups seeking to bring attention to the issues which impact them the most were silenced and taken away.

We believe that the right to protest is essential to our democracy as Canadians. Protests can be disruptive, but are also crucial to our well-being as a society. 

Our recent work

2020 Ontario Court of Appeal win

In 2010, Luke Stewart came to Toronto during the G20 summit to participate in protests. He went to Allan Gardens to take place in a rally and march. Police had formed a perimeter around the Gardens and required people to submit to a bag inspection in order to enter.

Luke refused to let police inspect his bag and challenged their authority to stop him going into the Gardens. When he tried to go past the police, he was stopped, his bag was searched and his swimming goggles were taken off him.  The police ultimately disbanded their perimeter and stopped inspecting people’s bags as they entered the Gardens. We intervened in this case to argue that the police had no lawful authority to demand these bag searches as a condition of entering the Gardens in the first place. In this situation, the police had no authority to demand to search demonstrators entering the park. 

Mr. Stewart brought an action challenging the Police’s use of mass and indiscriminate searches of protesters during the G20 protests. His case was appealed to the Ontario Court of Appeal from the Ontario Superior Court of Justice, and in 2020 (ten years later) the Court sided with Luke and CCLA: police cannot search you without committing a crime. 

We believe that peaceful protest is a form of expression protected by the Charter. Police powers that restrict freedom and rights must be justifiable. While we don’t have unrestricted rights to use public parks however we like, the state equally doesn’t have the right to restrict entry in a way that violates Charter rights and freedoms. There must be reasonable limits placed on police powers. 

This isn’t a country where the police stop people based on broad state powers that are not grounded in the constitution” – Michael Bryant, Executive Director 

Rights and freedoms should only be subject to reasonable limits, justifiable in a free and democratic society.

UPDATES

April 17, 2019 – Court decides favourably that police had no right to stop and search Luke.

December 17, 2019 – CCLA appears as an intervenor at the Ontario Court of Appeal

MATERIALS

April 16, 2020 Decision

November 6, 2019 CCLA’s Factum