Yesterday I was at the Luminato food event in Queen’s Park. As many of the booths were close to the road I was able to observe about three unmarked mini-vans that each had about 4-5 cops inside and these same vans continued to circle the block and passed me numerous times over a two-hour period. Maybe they were looking for subversive Pad Thai?!?
Earlier this week I was in traffic court (yes, I know, the shame, the shame) and had occasion to be sitting next to a plainclothes cop who was reading through what was about a 50 page booklet that seemed to be a manual for all those law enforcers who would be attending the big G20 bash that we’re apparently throwing this week. It was from the ISU and covered a wide range of topics so, of course, I did my best to unobtrusively read over his shoulder. I was able to read about 8 pages before my case was called. Aside from dictates on attire and washroom breaks, there was one part that did catch my eye.
The police obviously have plans to arrest 100’s and 100’s of people – or are prepared to do so. I know that they’ve denied this previously, but they are definitely going to be using the Toronto Film Studios as their “Prisoner Detention Facility”, as it said so in the manual. I took a drive past there the other day and the entire facility has been surrounded by high fencing and all the entrances have double gates, which is standard for most jails. Remember, these sound stages are HUGE and even one could likely accommodate 1,000 people, depending on how they laid out the beds, toilets, etc. I can only imagine what that’s going to be like for the people detained in there. The Somali refugee camps come to mind…
The manual went on to describe procedure for making arrests and it would seem that they’ve set up some kind of assembly line-like process. Officers are directed to take any newly arrested person to a “Prisoner Transport Bus”, which they will have ready and available in multiple locations around the downtown (more evidence of the number of arrests they’re anticipating). These buses, once full, will then transport the detainees to the detention facility where they will be held.
The officers are told not to accompany their prisoners – which is the usual process to maintain chain of custody for any evidence seized or statements made. Without that unbroken chain, that evidence or statement is inadmissible in court. However, they seemed concerned that if individual officers were to accompany their prisoners to the film jail (Little Guantamo?!) there would be chaos there and, more importantly, it would result in officers being taken off the front line to deal with more potential arrestees.
So, to deal with that they have set up a group of officers that was referred to as the “Prisoner Processing Detail”, whose job it will be to receive the prisoner from the arresting officer along with any evidence seized at the time. Some members of this detail seem to be designated to receive bodies, others to take physical evidence and still others will be there with recording equipment to record any statements made. As this ‘detail’ also needs to stay at the front line, yet another detail, the “Prisoner Transfer Detail” will then take the body, the evidence and the statements and will accompany all of these to the film jail, where they will be processed along with the prisoner, who will then get fingerprinted and photographed.
Now, here’s where it starts to get a little future-creepy. Apparently ALL prisoners will have their images scanned though facial recognition software and from what I was able to read they are planning to have multiple vehicles at the original scene that will be equipped with cameras tied into a facial recognition databases so that they can identify any wanted, or other people who are “known to police”, whose images they will be able to capture in the crowds. (As an aside, it’s not widely known, but quite a number of Toronto police cars now have facial recognition cameras inside the cars that photograph people in the back seat to aid in warrant execution and to prevent people from giving false names).
I’m going to be very interested to see how well this all works because the Canada Evidence Act is very clear on what’s necessary for evidence to be admissible in a court of law. That “chain of custody” I referred to earlier must be completely unbroken, documented and signed for every single time it ever changes hands and has to be sealed in evidence bags, also sealed and signed. As soon as that chain is broken – evidence placed on the ground during a scuffle and picked up by someone else or evidence misplaced and later found – will have the effect of rendering that evidence inadmissible and would usually result in an acquittal for the defendant. If this happens here on any kind of scale it would result in a colossal waste of money in the administration of justice as all the costs of arresting, processing, detaining, and then trying these in court will be for nothing.
The rest of the few parts I was able to read over his shoulder dealt with dress codes (uniforms always), bathroom breaks (only in designated facilities), and food (none allowed on your person but there will be food available at designated locations – the revolution will be catered!). Then my case got called and I had to tear myself away (I, of course, beat my ticket!).
Frankly, the whole thing is Orwellian on a scale that sends chills through me. Cameras that scan the crowd that are tied into facial recognition databases, prisoner assembly lines (my term, not theirs) and mass detention facilities all remind me of many movies that I’ve seen that are supposed to predict some kind of post apocalyptic future. Well, apparently, the future is now and it’s unfolding on the streets of our fair city. And I don’t know about you, but I’m feeling quite helpless as we plunge into an extremely costly summit thrust upon a city that doesn’t want it, and all and fueled by the erosion of our privacy and civil liberties. Thank you Mr. Harper. You really know how to throw a party.
God only knows what they have in those black helicopters that are already buzzing overhead and how much of this technology will linger after this debacle is over remains to be seen. It’s like the Patriot Act without an actual act of parliament. What has happened to our cherished notion of civil liberties? The press may have no business in the bedrooms of our nation but the police clearly have their business just about everywhere else.
This is a sad week for our city and our country. I barely recognize our city anymore and anyone who’s been brave enough to venture downtown will tell you of the chill they feel as Toronto the Good begins to resemble Fortress Toronto. In some ways I feel like our city’s being raped. I know that’s a strong word but what else do you call it when something you don’t want to happen is forced upon you with a degree of violence that leaves you feeling helpless, angry and distraught.
I love this city and I want it back. Harpo – take your G20 and G-out of here. It can’t be over soon enough for me…