On June 6, 1944, D-Day, roughly 20,000 Canadian troops landed on Juno beach. Against seasoned, trained, well armed and prepared enemy troops in fortified positions, under heavy fire and at a cost of many lives and wounded, they took the beach and pushed inland. They, as did so many others, secured Canada’s commitment to freedom — whatever the price.
Spin forward to June 26/27, 2010, G20: but now our 20,000-strong army is security personnel and armed and riot-armoured police advancing on the streets of Toronto against an estimated 25,000 civilians carrying banners and signs, exercising their freedom of assembly and freedom of speech, as well as a few handfuls of “anarchists” committing mayhem.
It’s different now. In 2010, freedom is no longer on the agenda. Now, it’s “security” at any cost, and the casualties are deep wounds to the freedoms for which on Juno beach, and in so many more times and places through the years, we have paid such great price.
There is no question that the violent G20 protesters were in the wrong. They were in the wrong because their actions violated the hard won rights of others. There is no right to vandalize, no right of assault or battery, riot, or mayhem. But let us also not forget the other 25,000 or so peaceful protesters who were wrongfully repressed, and silenced, by over-zealous police action.
There is also no question that the police fulfilled a valuable and necessary role. But a free democracy requires that police maintain order and administer justice in a manner that is respectful of the civil rights of citizens, just as citizens must respect the proper role of the police, and the civil rights of each other. They crossed this line.
When the police, in whom we entrust such enormous power, fail to respect the fundamental rights they’re supposed to uphold, we are all under threat. When they cross the line, when they break this trust, it is like our immune system turning against us — it is society’s equivalent of cancer. This is why we must hold them to the very highest standard.
This is also why it is imperative that we carefully examine these events to identify and correct the problems, and why I join Amnesty International (Canada) and many others in the call for an independent review of G20 Security measures — a public inquiry.
It is critical to recognize in this call, however, and I cannot emphasize it strongly enough, that this is not about “not supporting the police” in doing their difficult job. It is about supporting freedom and justice, which we all should do: police, protesters and general public alike, across all party lines.
Shall we honour our heroes, and learn and grow from this? or scurry away and hide from the truth?