Canadian Educators Condemn G20 Policing

As educators, we charge the federal and Ontario governments, RCMP, OPP and Toronto Police responsible for G20 security for violating the institution of civic education.

 

Our responsibility as educators is to prepare active citizens with a strong concern for democratic institutions and a sense of duty to participate actively in democratic processes.

This participation includes, firstly, critical thinking that seeks out a broad range of information sources and dissenting perspectives on issues affecting not only oneself, but fellow citizens of our nation and our world, particularly the most vulnerable. Secondly, it includes understanding and interpreting the rights and freedoms enshrined in Canadian law, developing analyses of current social, political and economic problems and communicating these views to one’s elected representatives (Ontario Canadian and World Studies curriculum). Finally, this participation includes engaging in collective discussion, debate and deliberation and protecting an inclusive public sphere, including acting as a witness when this public sphere is threatened.

All three forms of democratic participation were not only threatened but, in vast numbers, criminalized and punished in a direct attack on democracy during the Toronto G20 summit.

Canadians’ right to develop critical, informed analyses through a healthy, diverse and independent media was violated by the intimidation and detention of independent and mainstream journalists documenting peaceful protests. This is an assault upon every Canadian’s civil right to access to information.

Torontonians’ Charter rights to public expression, assembly, debate and PROTEST in the public sphere was violated in the largest mass arrests in Canadian history (over 1000 citizens). And not only is protest a right, it’s a civic duty and the safeguard of democracy. We’ve seen an explosion of testimonies describing the excessive use of police force and arrest of peaceful protesters, particularly on the evenings of June 27 and 28 in Queen’s Park and the Queen/Spadina intersection. The criminalization of the Charter rights to free assembly and expression was reiterated by direct threats from officers telling arrested individuals to stay away from protests in the future.

The mass encirclement or “kettling” at the Queen/Spadina intersection of not only a peaceful sit-in, but any bystanders caught at the ‘wrong place, wrong time” was a spectacle that communicated a powerful chill to anyone watching the live CP24 coverage. The live footage of over 100 individuals corralled and shivering for 4 hours in the severe thunderstorm with no access to information, explanation of their crime, access to washrooms, shelter, warm clothing, food, water, medication or dignity was a dramatic spectacle of public punishment. CP24 coverage included cell phone and camera interviews with those caught in the police net: neighbourhood residents returning from dinner or out walking their dog, independent journalists and anyone who came to observe the sit-in.

This was the criminalization of the very act of witnessing. This was a punitive repression of the basic lungs of democracy and fundamental safeguard against the abuse of power: survivors of police states and military dictatorships remind us that the primary guarantor of civic safety and constitutional rights is a street filled with witnesses.

This was also a national public lesson in fear and repression. Based on reports from over 50 human rights monitors, the CCLA’s preliminary report concludes that police actions were “unprecedented, disproportionate and, at times, unconstitutional [including] arbitrary searches … in countless locations across the city, in many instances several kilometers from the G20 summit site” . In effect, argues Amnesty Canada, security practices “narrowed the space for civic expression and cast a chill over citizen participation in public discourse”. The Twittersphere and Facebook were filled Sunday with countless warnings not to walk the downtown streets: dozens of testimonies recounted personal experiences of police detention, search and intimidation of anyone carrying a bag or wearing black, particularly young adults and people of colour. Unable to distinguish black bloc “terrorists” (Bill Blair, June 28) from civilians, police placed every one of us on the downtown streets under suspicion of terrorism.

This was an assault on our career-long work as educators: in the youth punished for witnessing the Queen/Spadina sit-in, we saw our own past students: curious, with limited political literacy but an unshakeable faith in their Charter rights and freedoms. Years of civic education and global education, years of teaching our students of our urgent duty as citizens to inform ourselves and participate in public debates that affect everyone, particularly the world’s most vulnerable; these were all silenced in a daunting national spectacle. The ‘summit show’ taught anyone watching clear lessons in fear and apathy: Stay home. Accept that 20 individuals from 20 arbitrarily chosen nations should require $1 billion in protection to put the world’s most vulnerable populations on a crash diet to pay for Wall Street’s unregulated greed . Follow the media, not your own eyes. Condemn those that sought to witness the evacuation of the public space as “rebels without a clue” (Toronto Sun, June 28); blame them for courting their own peril, for causing “public mischief”.

We write today out of concern for our own students. Listening to testimony after testimony of youth released from the Eastern/Pape Detention Centre and the Queen/Spadina downpour, we have to ask: when we teach our students of the duty to think critically and participate in democracy, are we putting them at risk of public humiliation, detention without explanation, harsh confinement, verbal and physical intimidation, sexual and homophobic harassment, and an enduring sense of insecurity and fear?

We refuse to let this happen. While we condemn criminal acts of vandalism by a small number of individuals, and while much police conduct was restrained and exemplary, we demand an independent public inquiry into security during the 2010 Canadian G8 and G20 Summits, held jointly by the Ontario and Federal governments. Such an inquiry must include opportunities for public input and participation, and produce findings that are released to the public. The inquiry should consider the impact of security measures on the Charter rights of citizens to freedom of assembly, association, expression, and due process.

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