Police are refusing to address claims by two independent journalists that they were illegally arrested and searched by Toronto Police Services (TPS), the Toronto Media Co-op has learned.
Bryan Law, a journalist for Press for Truth, a small independent outlet in Toronto, was filming stock footage on a sidewalk in the financial district when a security officer told him that he had to stop if he did not have a permit. When Law replied that they did not legally require a permit to film on a sidewalk, the guard called Toronto Police.
According to Dan Dicks, also with Press for Truth, “One of our members was arrested and illegally detained and searched for filming on a public sidewalk under the pretext of "heightened security due to the G20 summit".
Video footage of the incident captured by Law (which an be seen here on the Toronto Media Co-op), clearly shows Law being confronted by TPS asking for his ID.
Toronto Police Services: Are you going to give [your ID] to me?
Bryan Law: Why do you want to see my ID?
TPS: Because there’s heightened security because of the G8 & G20 coming up.
Law: I’m aware, I’m going to go through the accreditation process and everything. All I’m doing down here today is getting shots in the streets, bank logos and things like that to show the proximity of the G20 in relation to the financial district, that’s it.
TPS: Ok, I’d appreciate if you’d identify yourself.
Law: Ok, well that’s fine, I can identify myself to you. My name is Bryan, but I don’t think it’s necessary to give ID to private security when I’m filming on public property.
TPS: What’s you’re last name?
TPS: Date of Birth?
Law: I’m not going to surrender that. I can give you my name, but I’m not comfortable with surrendering that.
TPS continued to ask Law for more information including his address and he refused. Then, one of two TPS officers heard on the video gives Law an ultimatum: “You’re gunna stop filming now or you’re gunna give us ID, one of the two.”
When Law refused on the grounds that he was not committing a crime and therefore could not be forced to either stop filming or surrender ID, he was arrested.
Law then tries to recount what is happening to him to his camera which is still filming when an officer (According to Law, officer 99893, Police Constable James) turns off the camera.
Dicks later told the Media Co-op that Law “has requested an arrest report which they said will take 30 business days to receive,” and that Law plans on “filing an official complaint.”
Although TPS claim in the video that they are asking Law to surrender ID due to “heightened security” for the G20 there is actually no provision in the Criminal Code that would allow this. It is also unclear what grounds the TPS used to arrest Law.
In a March 2006 analysis, Jennifer Wispinski with the Law and Government Division of the Parliamentary Information and Research Service outlines when Canadian Police have the power to arrest, detain and search if a crime is not being committed.
According to Wispinski, “Section 83.3 of the Criminal Code governs preventive arrests. A peace officer may arrest a person [believed to be carrying out a terrorist activity] without warrant and detain that person in custody if he or she suspects on reasonable grounds that detention is necessary in order to prevent a terrorist activity.”
So why did Toronto Police Services believe an independent journalist shooting stock footage, giving his name and saying he was going through the accreditation process was committing a terrorist act?
Meaghan Gray, TPS and G20 Planning Team Spokesperson was shown the video and asked to respond to how the TPS officers could have believed a terrorist act was being committed.
In an e-mail response Gray stated, “My Public Affairs officers reviewed the link that you sent and she believes the video has been edited. Because of that, we are not going to offer a comment with respect to the actions of the police officers or the individuals involved.”
While no other reports have been received by the Toronto Media Co-op of arrests related to the G20, the Halifax Media Co-op reported extensively on the arrest of Toni MacAfee, a staff member of the Canadian Union of Postal Workers at a G8 Ministers Protest in April.
Though MacAfee was arrested and charged with assaulting a police officer, reporters from protesters paint a different picture of the incident.
Speaking in an interview with the Halifax Media Co-op (the interview can be found here) Jake Feldman a protester, recounts what happened.
“I was right in front of her, cops were pushing people onto the side walk. People were moving onto the sidewalk and as she was walking on, the cops asked her to move, she looked back and then she looked forward and as she was walking then the cops pushed her maybe because she wasn’t walking fast enough for them. Then she turned around and said ‘don’t touch me’ or ‘get your hands off me’. And one cop put his arm around her neck and choke-held her and another cop swiveled her sideways. She was holding a coffee at the time, and as they cops pulled her around her coffee flung as a result of being pulled around, and got on one of the cops uniforms. Then 3 cops…put her into a truck and arrested her.”
MacAfee did not respond to repeated requests for an interview with the Toronto Media Co-op.
When asked about the arrests, Natalie Desrosiers, General Council with the Canadian Civil Liberties Association (CCLA) says that the CCLA is concerned about police abusing their powers before, during and after the summits.
“We have a multitude of concerns including the way that police interact with protesters pre-summit and the screening process at the fence,” she said.
Desrosiers says the CCLA has raised several concerns with the police but the police have not responded to all the concerns. “They’ve given us assurances that info provided to us for ID purposes will be destroyed and that they will take down surveillance cameras after the summit,” but concerns about police action during the protests have not been addressed.
During the summits, Desrosiers says the CCLA has raised concerns about police issuing mass arrests irrespective of culpability, imposing bail conditions preventing people from protesting before dropping charges and also police violence.
“Police should try to protect the rights of protesters including freedom of expression and peaceful assembly,” she said.
Gwalgen Geordie Dent is a sustaining and contributing member of the Toronto Media Co-op