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06/01/2010

Safeguarding civil liberties during the G20

The Canadian Civil Liberties Association is seeking volunteers to serve as their eyes and ears on the ground during the G20 summit.

The CCLA has issued an email call out for independent and neutral observers who are not associated with demonstrators or law enforcement. These "human rights monitors" will act as witnesses and observers, armed with a pen and notepad as protesters and summit security inevitably clash -- peacefully or otherwise -- during the June 26-27 summit.

The CCLA says the monitors will be tasked with recording everything, including instances of police misconduct or inappropriate government restrictions that violate civil liberties. As CCLA project director Abby Deshman explains, human rights monitors can be extremely useful, not only to provide an independent record of events but to also serve as a deterrent for improper law enforcement.

"We're obviously worried about respect for Charter rights," Deshman said. "Our monitors will be there as completely independent observers to see what's going on and report back."

Deshman continued: "There was an extensive monitoring effort in Quebec City, during the Summit of Americas, and a really long independent report was put out of that. (The report) extensively documented the police actions there and it formed the basis of complaints, both to the United Nations and RCMP Public Complaints Commission. I think without those independent reports that detailed exactly what happened, it’s unlikely we would have been able to get as good a sense of what was really happening on the ground."

All monitors will go out in pairs and work shifts of about four hours per day during the week of June 21-27. According to the CCLA, human rights monitors do not need legal experience but will undergo a three-hour CCLA training session. The CCLA notes that there is a small chance monitors could interact with police, face arrest or be asked to testify in court, however. 

Meanwhile, the CCLA has also published a guide for protestors and a statement of concerns regarding civil liberties and human rights at the G20. 

Among the concerns are:

1) The designated free speech zone: The CCLA asserts that "all of Toronto is a 'free speech zone'" and urges summit security to also acknowledge this publicly. The group says protesters cannot be prevented from demonstrating outside the designated speech area (Queen's Park) especially since the zone is so far from the summit site (the Metro Convention Centre).

The CCLA also disapproves of any language from police officers urging protesters to gather in the designated protest area.

2) Pre-summit interactions with potential protesters: The CCLA says it isn't necessarily negative for summit security and protesters to have dialogue prior to the summit but warns against "intimidating or threatening" tactics that might be used in dealing with potential protesters.

The CCLA says law enforcement officials should approach protesters in a non-confrontational manner and attempt to make initial contact through mail or email. "Under no circumstances should officers approach individuals in large intimidating groups, late at night, or at people's workplaces," the statement says.

3) Surveillance cameras: Seventy-seven CCTV cameras are being installed around the downtown core for the G20. The CCLA reminds law enforcement officials that cameras should not be turned on earlier than necessary and ought to be switched off and removed immediately after the summit.

The CCLA also says they are concerned with whether outside agencies will have access to the video footage; they also express worries over how long recorded footage will be retained and how footage will be used.

4 ) Fences and control of identity and movement: The CCLA says it supports ensuring a safe and secure G20 summit but notes that security measures often restrict individual civil liberties. The group notes that erecting security fences can impair vital democratic rights and freedoms, such as the right to freedom of movement. The CCLA also warns that "ad hoc" searches, which they fear will take place at the outer security perimeter, are "unacceptable."

Another major concern is with information being collected by summit security. Residents and workers affected by the security perimeters are asked to "voluntarily" register their information if they want to obtain an access card for accessing the summit zones during June 26-27. The CCLA fears, however, "that individuals will have no real choice but to register, given the anticipated state of security during the G20." There are also concerns with the lack of information on what security officials are doing with private information they obtain and how long information will be retained.

Of course, the CCLA is also worried about how arrests will be handled, as well as the potential use of force. Deshman said the CCLA is alarmed with the Toronto police's recent purchase of four long-range acoustic devices, to be used both during the summit and beyond.

While the device is deemed a "communication tool" by law enforcement officials, Deshman says the CCLA considers them to be a weapon.

"We're very concerned about the LRAD," she said. "We view it as a weapon. We don't think it's gone through sufficient ministry approval process, as is required by law, and we're worried about the health impact."

"We're concerned about the deployment of any weapons that are indiscriminate in terms of who they target."

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