Criminal Lawyer’s Association Calls for Independent Fact-Finder Into G20 Events

Early this morning I posted a message on the Listserv of the Criminal Lawyer’s Association (CLA) asking the organization to call on the government to commence a public inquiry into the events of this past weekend. Although I fully respect that messages on a professional Listserv should be kept confidential, given the message was my original work, I am posting an edited version below:

I spent much of Sunday and Monday at the G20 courts at 2201 Finch assisting with bail hearings for those arrested. Before I express concerns, I thought the membership should know of how impressed I was at how the various stakeholders handled the entire court process. Court staff, including officers, clerks and reporters, and other administrative staff, were extremely helpful and hardworking under relentless pressure. The Crowns were generally reasonable and willing to discuss matters and, where we were to disagree, would fully explain their position. The judiciary was very hardworking. This part of the system operated how a judicial system should.

There were many issues with rights of Accused persons that came up over the few days. These range from habeus corpus, first appearance rights, access to counsel, official language rights, and the Crown’s use of the tertiary ground. I also expect there will be evidentiary and chain of custody issues that will come up over time. Many of the synopses presented by police had some serious questionable points. I expect many of these issues will be litigated, likely by CLA members, and would happily provide more details as requested.

I propose the best route for the CLA to go is to join in calling on Premier McGuinty for a public inquiry pursuant to the Public Inquiries Act (as of now, the Premier has stated he will not be calling such an inquiry). Our primary role as defence lawyers is to ensure a fair trial and the correct application of the law – and this can be provided through the application of this Act presided over by a highly respected sitting or retired jurist as commissioner.

As it turned out, the leadership of the CLA was already working on this very thing. A couple hours ago a press release was circulated requesting the appointment of an independent fact-finder as well as expressing numerous areas of concern. Once again, the CLA has shown extraordinary leadership in dealing with a highly sensitive situation; kudos to President Paul Burstein, Executive Director Anthony Laycock, and the entire executive committee.

The official press release can be downloaded here.

Press Release
For Immediate Distribution

Criminal Lawyers’ Association calls for an Independent Fact Finder
For the G20 Prisoner Processing Centre

Toronto, ON, June 30, 2010 – The Criminal Lawyers` Association (CLA) joins the call for the immediate appointment of an independent fact finder to inquire into the circumstances surrounding the arrest and detention of the G20 protesters.

The inquiry should begin with an examination as to why the Governments of Canada and Ontario chose a venue that was ripe with security issues and which would undoubtedly lead to the police infringing the rights of lawful protesters. Having chosen a venue with such significant security challenges, the Ontario Government then found itself resorting to the artifice of declaring an open area of Toronto’s downtown core a “public work” for the purposes of increasing police powers through invocation of the Public Works Protection Act. Even had the Ontario Government properly publicized its invocation of these additional police powers, it would have been near impossible for citizens to understand the limits of this police power and to act accordingly. Further, given the difficulties in securing such an amorphous area, it should have been obvious that the police would have trouble catching handfuls of troublemakers in crowds of lawful protesters without also detaining innocent citizens. Consequently, it appears that at some point during the events, the police simply expanded their authority to detain or arrest masses of lawful protesters in order to prevent the harm caused by a small minority. Government and police officials involved in these decisions must be held accountable.

The CLA is also gravely concerned about how many of the 900 G20 protesters were treated following their arrest and detention. Based on the published reports, the detentions at the Prisoner Processing Centre (PPC) have likely resulted in mass civil and political rights violations. The Criminal Lawyers’ Association received information that hundreds of people were held at the PPC for as long as 15 to 30 hours, many without being given the opportunity to call a lawyer. Counsel who called to speak with detainees were told by PPC officials that those officials did not “have the authority” to allow detainees to speak with lawyers. Many of the people who were allowed to make calls to counsel from the centre reported that they were not charged with any criminal offence, and were simply being held for “breach of the peace”. Some of those detainees had been in custody for over twenty-four hours without ever being charged. Others who had been charged were not brought before a justice within twenty-four hours, contrary to the Criminal Code. The deplorable conditions of the detention facilities at the PPC have been widely reported. An independent fact finder, empowered to interview detainees, review documents, interview authorities and public officials is essential to restore our faith in the values essential to any free and democratic society.

The Criminal Lawyers’ Association (CLA) is one of the largest specialty legal organizations in Canada, with more than 1,000 members. The CLA is a voice for everyone concerned with criminal justice and civil liberties in Canada. Our advice and perspective is sought frequently by all levels of government and the judiciary on issues relating to legislation and the administration of criminal justice. The CLA also assists its members in every aspect of the practice of criminal litigation. A list of our membership and a more detailed description of our organization is located at http://www.criminallawyers.ca

For more information contact:

Paul Burstein
President, Criminal Lawyers’ Association
Tel: 416-214-9875 Direct: 416-562-2323

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