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On behalf of the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) Ontario, representing 230,000 broader public sector workers across the province, we must comment on the protests of this past weekend and on the acts of unprovoked violence we have witnessed.

CUPE members from across Ontario came to Toronto last Saturday to protest, with our allies, the structure known as the G20.  We came to make our voices heard on economic, environmental, equality and trade justice issues which were ignored by the G20 leaders. 

Many of our members have proudly participated in peaceful events and demonstrations over the last week and, indeed, our union actively supported and participated in the G20 protests. We stand firm in the belief that one of the foundations of our democracy is the right to the public expression of dissent. Yet, over the last number days, we have all borne witness to excessive use of force and violence that does nothing to advance the cause of democratic protest.

Property was damaged, publically-owned police vehicles were burned, and innocent people were attacked and detained as a result of taking part in protests. All of this is wrong. What we have witnessed is nothing short of the abandonment of the rule of law, both by a small group who took part in the protests, and by a massive and heavily armed police force who were charged with overseeing them. Due process, civil liberties and the right to peaceful protest have been the victim.

What should be especially troubling to everyone in Ontario, irrespective of one’s inclination to protest or one’s feelings about the G20, is the degree to which events set in motion this past week could all too easily lead to the criminalization of dissent in this country. A healthy Canadian democracy cannot allow that to happen, and avoiding it, requires the courage to speak out against any abuse of police powers on the right to public protest. 

It is a sad day in Canada when those who would peacefully protest, those who are charged with reporting on it, even those who simply happen upon it, are subject to the level of excessive and arbitrary force and violence we have all witnessed either in person or watching our televisions and computer screens.

It’s a sad day when over a thousand people can be arrested and detained for hours, even days, without due process of their rights to legal counsel or any contact with family or friends, without any evidence that they actually broke the law, and with 700 being released without any charges.

And it’s a sad day when some of those, who feel powerless to change the direction of their elected leaders, find in that feeling of powerlessness an excuse to break the law and vandalize the property of their fellow citizens and who, in so doing, silence the legitimate voices of so many others whose commitment to protest and dissent is matched by their rejection of violence and vandalism.

In light of what has happened, of charges and counter charges of unacceptable behavior leveled against police and against some protesters, our union joins with many others, including Amnesty International, the Council of Canadians, and the Canadian Civil Liberties Association who are calling for a full and impartial inquiry into the events of the G20 including:

  • The lead-up to the Summit, including the decision to hold it in Toronto
  • The monies spent on security
  • The design of the security zone
  • The secretive changes to legislation
  • All actions by police throughout the week of June 21, especially on Saturday, June 26 and Sunday, June 27
  • Compensation for those who suffered damages, both personal and to their property
  • The prolonged detention and mass arrests of hundreds of innocent citizens
  • The conditions of detention at the Eastern Avenue detention centre
  • The role of all levels of government in the planning, implementation, and control over all of the above

A full and impartial public inquiry is the only way to ensure that the tragic events of late are never repeated.

Fred Hahn, President, CUPE Ontario
Candace Rennick, Secretary-Treasurer, CUPE Ontario

For more information: 

Chris Watson
CUPE Communications
Tel: (416) 53-9410
Email: cwatson@cupe.ca