Violation of a fundamental right

TheStar.com – Opinion/Editorial Opinion
Published On Sat Oct 30 2010.   Nathalie Des Rosiers, Canadian Civil Liberties Association

The following is excerpted from a statement this week to a parliamentary committee by Nathalie Des Rosiers, general counsel of the Canadian Civil Liberties Association, calling for a public inquiry into the events of the G20 weekend in Toronto last June:

Peaceful assembly is as fundamental a right as the right to vote: it supports access by politicians to their electors and permits political life and discussion. It ought not to be violated with impunity.

The security effort for the G20 was massive, it was expensive and it was complex. Its results include the largest mass arrests in Canadian history outside of wartime, thousands of arbitrary detentions and unreasonable searches, numerous instances of vandalism. It ought not to become the model for public order policing. We deserve better.

It cannot be that over 900 completely innocent people were arrested, their hands tied, their phones seized, their shoes removed, denied the opportunity to call anyone, detained for several hours, one of the most frightening experiences and interactions with the state and the police — and their government will say that it does not care. To say that, unfortunately, they were at the wrong place, at the wrong time, is not enough. They are entitled to understand why they were treated this way. They deserve better.

Finally, I want to appeal to you as men and women who believe in politics and the public good. You all give your lives to attempting to solve issues for your fellow citizens. That is why you are here.

People who protest also believe in the power of politics. They could stay home and watch TV, watch the World Cup, play on their computers. But they care enough about their fellow citizens (here and elsewhere) to march, and they were arrested. A handful of vandals ought to have been stopped, not a thousand people randomly arrested or dispersed.

We should support political engagement, not punish it. The day that 20 world political leaders meet and no one shows up to express their opinion, for fear that they could be arrested or mistreated, is the day we will have truly lost our democracy. We are counting on you to ensure that this does not occur by committing to a process that will provide answers and solutions.

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