Citizens’ panel created on heels of G-20 protests

By on May 1, 2002

Left to right, Bishop Peter Coffin, former Ottawa mayor Marion Dewar and broadcaster Jacqueline Pelletier hear protest complaints.

Ottawa

Bishop Peter Coffin of the diocese of Ottawa is on a five-member panel hoping to find ways to restore trust between police and citizens and avoid the kind of clashes that marred the G-20 meeting in Ottawa last November.

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The Ottawa panel had its costs paid for by a loose group of citizens who had been involved in the demonstrations and by the panelists themselves. It has no official sponsorship. It includes Jaqueline Pelletier, a consultant and broadcaster; Kenneth Binks, a former judge, journalist and author; and Anne Squire, the first lay woman to be elected a moderator of the United Church of Canada. It is chaired by former Ottawa Mayor Marion Dewar.

The panel was formed after a group of citizens asked the police services board to review police practices, but were turned down. “After that,” said a panel organizer, Deb Byrne, “Marion Dewar stepped forward and said ‘we will conduct our own neutral, objective review.'” Ms. Byrne said the police also declined to participate in the panel’s review process.

At a news conference in February, Bishop Coffin said that none of the panelists had been in the demonstration, so no one had a particular bias going into the review. However, he added, “in a healthy democracy, voices of dissent must be able to express themselves in a safe environment.”

He added that he hoped that through the findings of the panel, the police, protestors and the community might be able to design a model where dissent can be heard which ensures the safety of everybody.

Ms. Dewar said there were “worrisome reports from a number of our community groups that ? the trust between police and the citizens has been damaged as a result of those demonstrations.”

In these circumstances, she added, the usual channels “are insufficient for rebuilding trust.”

The panel had four public meetings between Feb. 21 and March 2 and accepted written submissions for a report that will be published in mid-May. The panel did not plan to review the conduct of police or demonstrators during the G-20 summit.

“We’re looking at the overview of how we are going to model crowd control in future demonstrations,” Ms. Dewar said. A review of police conduct was not in the mandate. “That’s not what we’re here about.”

Protestors complained that several people were bitten by police dogs, a reporter was hit on the head with a police nightstick and others were beaten during a peaceful demonstration to protest monetary politics of the G-20.

The demonstration, said Ms. Byrne, “was truly a frightening experience. I’ve been in peaceful marches all of my life.”

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