Two days after the G20 disturbances in Toronto, it is clear, just from the statements made by police (not demonstrators nor lawyers nor journalists) that there was a massive failure of intelligence by the Integrated Security Unit.
That failure of intelligence lead to unjustified mass arrests, imprisonment, and according to a growing number of reports, police beatings of detainees.
In a clip played on CBC News on Monday, Sgt. Tim Burrows, one of the spokespeople for the Toronto Police Service, said (somewhat passionately in my view) that simple possession of a bandana soaked in vinegar to protect the user from tear gas was evidence of criminal intent and justification for detention and possible criminal charges.
If that was what Toronto Police intelligence indicated, that is the first evidence of that intelligence failure.
In today’s news conference, Chief Bill Blair said the police intelligence units were monitoring social media. But if the police weren’t monitoring the correct social media, by concentrating solely on the radical element, rather than the wider world of blogs, Facebook postings and Tweets, then that is more evidence of the intelligence failure.
In this morning’s show and tell at police headquarters, there was a collection of items seized from those who were arrested. Some of those items were “street” weapons. But as the media at the news conference pointed out to Blair two items, a crossbow and a chainsaw had nothing to do with G20 but to a man arrested by police and now undergoing a psychiatric assessment. So now one must question if some of the protective gear, like helmets, are similar red herrings. Did that gear belong to members of the radical, anarchist Black Bloc, or to people simply trying to protect themselves? And since the police keep using the term ”street weapons,” were they seized from radical thugs or every day street thugs taking advantage of the chaos?
What the Toronto Police Service in their assumption that protective gear is evidence of the “criminals” that Chief Blair keeps talking about has done, is to show that that police intelligence don’t know how to use Google properly.
That fact is that use of protective gear and protective tactics for use in demonstrations during the G20 was widely discussed in social media, on blogs and elsewhere for weeks prior to the G20 meetings. Information on how to protect yourself even appeared in the main stream media, in Kathy English’s Saturday morning column in the Toronto Star.
That means anyone planning to attend Saturday’s demonstrations would have a basic idea on how to protect themselves by reading the Star over breakfast, even if they hadn’t gone online.
If they had gone online, they would have come across easily accessible sites such as
part of the more general Protestor’s Web Guide (on a Manitoba Telephone System customer site)
The Demo Preparation Guide from the Black Cross Collective
One page relates that the
- comfortable, protective shoes that you can run in
- clothing covering all your skin to protect from sun and pepper spray exposure.
- shatter-resistant eye protection (i.e. sunglasses, swim goggles, or gas mask)
- bandana to cover nose and mouth soaked in water or vinegar, it can aid in breathing during chemical exposure
- weather-related gear (i.e. rain gear, sun hat, winter clothing)
- heavy-duty gloves if you plan to handle hot tear gas canisters
- fresh clothes in plastic bag (in case yours get contaminated by chemical weapons)
- a cap or a hat to protect you from the sun and from chemical weapons
Google “protection from tear gas”, 625 results come up.
The first one (and therefore most significant to Google’s algorithms) is an archived e-mail giving hints on protecting oneself from teargas, based on the experience of taking part in the anti-globalization riots in Seattle in 1999.
(3) Least expensive – bandana, goggles, hat, lemon juice/cider vinegar,
An inexpensive but much less effective barrier against
inhaled tear gas can be made by soaking bandanas in lemon juice or
(better) organic cider vinegar. The acidic fluid helps to act as a barrier against tear gas – but this barrier can be rapidly saturated and become ineffective. Commercial vinegar (especially the clear vinegar) is often made with acetic acid – this smells bad and can irritate skin and mucous membranes. Some folks will have allergic reactions to acetic acid.
It appears, at least from their public statements, that the Toronto Police Service believes that to protect yourself from tear gas, it is still the 1960s where you go into the basement of a radical bookstore (of course there are no longer any independent bookstores) and pick up a mimeographed manual. And, of course, only radicals would do that
The question to ask is if the standard legal ”reasonable man” was going to take part in the peaceful anti-globalization anti-G20 demonstrations, would they not go online to find out how to protect themselves?
So if one piece of intelligence was faulty, what other intelligence was faulty?
If faulty intelligence was passed on to the street level incident commanders and police officers, if they were told to consider anyone wearing protective gear a “criminal” as it appears Blair and Burrows have said, then those officers would have done their duty and treated those people as criminals. That goes a long way to explain what happened.
Likely the problem was compounded by all those out -of-town cops who had no personal knowledge of Toronto. There are reports that police officers from Edmonton were telling the media not to take photographs. Also those out-of-town cops have no roots in Toronto, and Chief Blair said this morning that he has no power to discipline officers from other departments. In other words, there could have been a breakdown of command, control and discipline among cops who are now back on their own streets.
If there is public inquiry into what happened on the streets of Toronto on the weekend (and I doubt there will be an inquiry with both the federal and provincial governments with so much to hide) it will be important that the street level cops who acted on that bad intelligence not be singled out solely for blame. Those officers should be disciplined for any abuse that they did, even if based on faulty intelligence, because the principle of ”I just obeying orders” is no excuse is well established in law.
But if other inquiries on other events in Canada, the UK and the US are any indication no senior heads will roll.