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06/04/2010

Police visiting activists in lead up to G20, report says

Activists protesting the G20 say police have visited their political meetings and offices, and allege the drop-ins have involved intimidation and harassment.

In an article on Rabble, activists say plain-clothes officers have told them that police want to keep channels open around the G20 to ensure there are no problems.

“I think they’re try(ing) to figure out what people are doing for protests so they can prepare for how to deal with it and so it’s easier for them to try to shut protests down,” said Elley Newman, a board member of York University student group whose meeting was interrupted by a police visit.

The article says the officers were asked to leave; however, the police returned as the meeting was breaking up.

“I think it is dishonest trying to go into a safe space where people are organizing as an infiltrator. They say, ‘We want to work with you,’ which I don’t think is realistic or the case,” Newman said in the Rabble article.

On Wednesday, the Star spoke to Insp. George Cole -- head of the ISU's community relations group -- at a G20 community meeting at City Hall and asked him about allegations of improper visits to protesters.

We asked Cole whether ISU officers have been intimidating protesters and activist groups, either by visiting them late at night or in large groups.

“I'm not aware of it,” he said. “And I would be aware of it.”

Cole said ISU community relations officers try and reach out to protesters in any way they can, “whether it's by phone, by Internet, whatever contact we can.”

“Our goal is to ensure a safe assembly of people and certainly they have the right to protest,” he said.

Const. George Tucker, another officer with the Community Relations Group who attended the meeting, said most protesters approached by ISU officers have just been slamming the door on their faces. He suggested that perhaps reports are being exaggerated.

“They don't happen,” he said. “There is a little bit of, what's the word called, subterfuge going on from those groups,” Tucker said. “The last (visit) was two female officers, just dressed like you are -- so that's intimidating (protesters claim).”

In a statement of concerns released by the Canadian Civil Liberties Association, they address the issue of protester intimidation leading up to the G20.

“International experience demonstrates that prior contact between demonstrators and law enforcement can facilitate peaceful protests,” the statement reads. “CCLA recognizes that it is not necessarily negative for the police to reach out to protesters prior to demonstrations.”

“The way in which this outreach is done, however, needs to be carefully planned and executed to ensure that the outcome is facilitating peaceful protest, rather than intimidating or threatening those who may want to express dissent.”

The CCLA suggests that law enforcement officers approach protesters non-confrontationally and make initial contact by mail or email, “as per normal business practices.” They say law enforcement officials should make clear from the outset that answering questions or engaging in dialogue is entirely voluntary.

“Under no circumstances should officers approach individuals in large intimidating groups, late at night, or at people's workplaces,” the CCLA statement says.

Comments

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I know one person who was approach by CSIS, not Toronto Police, for this same purpose. The two people that visited fit the description of female officers in plain clothes fits the description I had heard.

It sounds to me like the protesters are being a little too paranoid.

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