By Chloé Fedio
A Toronto judge has ruled that “adrenalized” police officers acted as aggressors at a peaceful political rally that led to dozens of arrests during last year’s G20 summit.
“The only organized or collective physical aggression at that location that evening was perpetrated by police each time they advanced on demonstrators,” Justice Melvyn Green ruled on Thursday. He was referring to a demonstration at Queen St. and Spadina Ave. on Saturday, June 26, 2010.
Green stated police criminalized political demonstration, which is “vital” to maintain a “viable democracy.”
Green’s stern words echo widespread criticism of police during the G20, in which more than 1,100 people were detained in the largest mass arrest in Canadian history. A Toronto Star/Angus Reid Public Opinion poll conducted on the one-year anniversary of the G20 found a majority of Torontonians (54 per cent) now believe police response to demonstrations during the summit were unjustified.
“The zealous exercise of police arrest powers in the context of political demonstrations risks distorting the necessary if delicate balance between law enforcement concerns for public safety and order, on the one hand, and individual rights and freedoms, on the other,” Green wrote in a 29-page judgment.
The ruling was in response to charges against one protester, Michael Puddy.
The London, Ont. bricklayer was on his way to a concert downtown when he joined the front line of the late-night Saturday rally. Puddy was wearing a “Police Bastard” T-shirt named after a punk band, when he was pushed to the ground and cuffed.
Puddy was shuffled from officer to officer and eventually transported to the temporary Prisoner Processing Unit on Eastern Ave. He spent two days behind bars and was forced to sleep on a concrete floor and use a toilet without a door before he was released on $25,000 bail.
Though four officers testified at his trial, none could say why he was detained — or who made the initial arrest.
Green found that Puddy was arrested “completely without justification,” strip-searched and detained for two further days for “a show cause hearing.”
Green found that protesters were “harvested” by the police “punch out” tactic. Police would intermittently charge the crowd of about 300 people to force them west on Queen St. — and those who didn’t move back fast enough were seized, thrown to the ground and bound with plastic flex cuffs.
The following day, some 300 protesters and bystanders were boxed in at the same intersection when police used the controversial crowd control technique known as kettling. Toronto police have promised never to use that tactic again after widespread criticism.
Sgt. Ash Awad testified he “assumed” Puddy had been arrested for breaching the peace when he found him bound at his wrists on Queen St. W. Awad found that Puddy was carrying a 15-centimetre knife in a pouch on his belt.
Puddy was charged with obstructing police, concealing a weapon and possession of a prohibited weapon. The first two charges were dismissed during his trial in May. Green found Puddy not guilty of the final charge on Thursday.
“It’s vindication,” Puddy told the Toronto Star. “It shows that I never should have been arrested in the first place.”
Puddy said he went to the political protest — his first — to “see how democracy works.” He said he always carried the folding knife on his belt because it’s a useful tool on construction sites.
Green also ruled that since he was arrested without cause, the subsequent search that uncovered the knife was invalid.
Now 32, Puddy said he’s still disgusted at the behaviour of police that day in June.
“It seems like they may have singled me out of the crowd because of the way I was dressed. I remember being tackled from both sides,” Puddy said. “It was disgusting. I never would have expected something like this to happen in Canada.”