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From pepper spray to profiling: how protests have been policed in Canada

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OTTAWA —
RCMP Staff Sgt. Hugh Stewart did not mince words.

“You have one opportunity to move up that road and clear it off or you will be arrested,” he told protesters at the 1997 Asia-Pacific Economic Co-operation summit in Vancouver.

“I am going to use force, whatever force I deem necessary.”

With that, Stewart unleashed blasts of pepper spray on demonstrators, earning him the nickname “Sergeant Pepper.”

In the years that followed, the noxious spray, tear gas, riot shields and batons became familiar sights at anti-globalization protests.

The G20 summit of international leaders in Toronto a decade ago saw the largest mass arrests in Canadian history. More recently, controversies have erupted over how police and security agencies have handled anti-energy protests.

And now police have been criticized for not rushing to break blockades on critical transportation routes set up to protest a pipeline project on traditional Wet’suwet’en territory in northern British Columbia.

Here is a look at the evolving nature of how agencies track, police and monitor protests in Canada:

THE PLAYERS

Section 2(c) of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms guarantees the right of peaceful assembly. The police of jurisdiction — the RCMP, a provincial police service or a municipal force — are generally responsible for ensuring the right to dissent is upheld while being mindful of the need for public safety.

Sometimes, particularly at large gatherings with an international element, multiple police services will work together.

Legal experts, the courts and commissions of inquiry underscore the long-held tenet of police independence from government interference in carrying out these duties.

The federal Government Operations Centre is a hub for monitoring all manner of possible threats to the national interest, from hurricanes to rail blockades.

A 2014 analysis by the centre noted the use of social media, the spread of “citizen journalism” and the involvement of young people as key protest trends. The centre’s close watch on demonstration activity has prompted concerns among advocates of privacy and civil liberties.

The Canadian Security Intelligence Service uses everything from “open sources” such as newspapers to undercover agents to collect information on people and groups whose activities are suspected of constituting a threat to national security.

The CSIS watchdog found in 2017 the spy service had collected some information about peaceful anti-petroleum groups, but only incidentally as it investigated legitimate threats to projects such as oil pipelines.

TACTICS

The clashes between protesters and police at high-profile summit meetings spurred efforts by organizers to bolster security and limit access to venues.

Officials spent hundreds of millions of dollars on security for the 2018 meeting of G7 leaders at Malbaie, Que., which featured a heavy police presence in nearby Quebec City.

“That was very troubling to us, that there was this sort of strategy in advance to deter protests,” said Alex Neve, secretary-general of Amnesty International Canada.

More recently, demonstrators have taken to Canadian streets for peaceful marches in support of causes including climate action and gender equality, he noted. “Maybe there we’ve got policing at its best in this context, where police are recognizing that their role really is to make sure that the space for protest is open and safe and accessible.”

Police have generally shown restraint concerning the recent blockades of railways, roads and buildings in support of hereditary chiefs in British Columbia opposed to the planned Coastal GasLink pipeline.

The go-slow approach appears to be a conscious effort to avoid the sort of violent confrontation that resulted in the 1995 death of an Ojibwa protester at Ontario’s Ipperwash Provincial Park.

An inquiry into that incident, released 12 years later, cited best practices in policing protests involving Indigenous disputes, including escalation of force only to prevent serious harm, as well as simply waiting, listening and talking.

INFORMATION SHARING

Police and security agencies work closely with domestic and international partners, sometimes sharing information that could be retained for years or used in ways that are not readily apparent.

The Security of Canada Information Disclosure Act is one such mechanism for the sharing of security-related information among federal institutions.

Advocacy, protest, dissent, and artistic expression activities are excluded from the definition of information that can be disclosed under the act, unless these activities are carried out in conjunction with activities that undermine the security of Canada.

The Canadian Civil Liberties Association warns this still jeopardizes the rights of everyone from anti-pipeline protesters to international human-rights activists.

An ongoing court case over the now-defunct Enbridge Northern Gateway pipeline project has revealed that CSIS routinely welcomed reports from the energy industry about perceived threats and kept such information in its files in case it might prove useful later.

EMERGING ISSUES

The rapid advancement of digital technologies has given police and security agencies new tools that raise questions about the line between public and private information.

An RCMP division known as the Tactical Internet Intelligence Unit gleans information from open online sources on potential protest activity. It combed through sources about a Toronto anti-mining organizer to assemble a report detailing her age, address, education, language fluency, work experience and Facebook friends in the activist community.

Software applications such as the controversial Clearview AI can quickly sift millions of stored images and match them against photos of a person taken at a demonstration, airport or other public venue. The federal privacy commissioner and a House of Commons committee are investigating the implications of facial-recognition tools.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 4, 2020.

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Thanksgiving, large gatherings to blame for surge in COVID-19 cases in Ontario, officials say

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As Ontario saw record numbers of daily COVID-19 cases over the weekend, health officials on Monday are putting some of the blame on large gatherings that may have taken place over Thanksgiving two weeks ago. 

In York Region, 16 people, including three infants, are believed to have contracted the novel coronavirus following a Thanksgiving gathering. 

Three families gathered at a home in Vaughan over a span of two weeks around the Thanksgiving weekend.

At least one person attended despite having mild symptoms. 

One family member then went to work while symptomatic and infected two additional individuals. 

“Every time we socialize with anyone beyond our immediate household, there’s a risk that we enter into,” said Dr. Karim Kurji, York Region’s medical officer of health. 

“This particular cluster illustrates that sort of a risk.”

In the province’s daily COVID-19 briefing, Health Minister Christine Elliott pointed at Thanksgiving gatherings as one of the factors for the recent surge in COVID-19 cases. 

“We are also starting to see some of the numbers go down in some of the modified areas but because of the impacts of Thanksgiving, we’re not seeing that happening quite as quickly as we’d like to,” Elliott said.

Weddings, religious service exempt from provincial gathering limits

This past weekend, nearly 100 people, many without masks, congregated outside a Toronto church for a wedding on Saturday. 

A woman, whose identity CBC News agreed to protect because she fears repercussions from the community, was passing by when she saw the gathering and spoke out.

“It was wrong,” said the woman.

“It was going against everything we’re being asked to do right now and it gives the impression that what they’re doing matters more than keeping the rest of the people safe,” she said. 

Ontario has restricted gatherings to 10 people indoors and 25 people outdoors in areas that are in Stage 2 — Toronto, Peel Region and Ottawa.

But religious services, like weddings — even in hotspots like Toronto — are exempt, as long as the venue is at less than 30 per cent capacity. 

In a briefing Monday, Toronto Mayor John Tory said the rules may need to be changed.

“I think we have to take another look at those regulations,” he said. 

“Any large gathering, no matter how careful you are, has a certain risk associated with it.”

PC MPP under fire for maskless photo at indoor gathering

Meanwhile, a Progressive Conservative MPP is under fire for not wearing a mask while posing for a group photo.

Sam Oosterhoff posted the picture on social media over the weekend but later deleted it. 

“I think it was shocking,” said Ontario Liberal Leader Steven Del Duca on Monday. 

“I think it was inappropriate and I think there definitely needs to be consequences for Mr. Oosterhoff.”

Oosterhoff, who is also the parliamentary assistant to the education minister, apologized for the picture, saying he should have worn a mask when taking the photo, given the proximity of the people around him.

Critics have called for his resignation, saying he was not following his government’s pandemic guidance. 

In the province’s daily COVID-19 briefing, Premier Doug Ford said that’s not going to happen. 

“Hey guys, everyone makes mistakes,” said Ford. 

“I have 100 per cent confidence in Sam. He does a great job representing his area. People love him out there and he came out and apologized.”



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‘A community champion,’ philanthropist and former Ticats owner, David Braley dies at 79

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Hamilton is mourning the loss of David Braley, a former owner of the Hamilton Tiger-Cats with three decades of success in the Canadian Football League, a supporter of sport in the city, and an honoured philanthropist. 

Braley, who had owned the BC Lions since 1997, passed away in his Burlington, Ont. home at age 79, says a media release from the team.  

In a tweet, Mayor of Hamilton Fred Eisenberger called Braley a “community champion.”

“David Braley’s contributions live on and continue to make our city a better place,” he wrote. “His passion for community, arts & sport was immeasurable.”

He also journeyed into politics, when former Prime Minster Stephen Harper appointed Braley to the Canadian Senate in 2010, where he served for nearly three years. 

He was appointed to the Order of Canada in 2019 “for his contributions to the Canadian Football League, and for his entrepreneurial and philanthropic leadership in his community.” 

His philanthropy was remembered in a tweet Monday from Hamilton Health Sciences which said “We are profoundly saddened by the passing of David Braley. He was a champion for the people of Hamilton and contributed so much to improving medical education and research to the benefit of the global community.”

In a media release Bob Young, caretaker of the Hamilton Tiger-Cats, said “I and the Tiger-Cats mourn David’s passing. He was an enthusiastic Hamiltonian and a wonderful benefactor to our community’s hospitals and universities. The CFL and Hamilton communities have lost a great leader and champion today.”

The first team Braley owned in the Canadian Football League (CFL) was the Hamilton Tiger-Cats from 1989 to 1992, when it returned to community ownership.

During his first season of ownership, the Ticats went to the Grey Cup.

“While David was well known for his role with the BC Lions, he was also always, at heart, a Ticat fan. Our sincerest condolences go out to David’s family, and his wide circle of friends and admirers across our community,” said Young. 

Braley went on to collect four Grey Cups during his time as an owner in the CFL. Three of them were with the BC Lions, and his last was with the Toronto Argonauts, which he owned from 2010 to 2015.

The Argonauts won the 100th Grey Cup in 2012. 

He also acted as chairman of the CFL’s Board of Governors and served as an interim commissioner from March to November in 2002. 

Braley was inducted into the Canadian Football Hall of Fame (2012), McMaster Sports Hall of Fame (2007) and Hamilton Sports Hall of Fame (2006).

Tributes to man whose name adorns buildings across the city are being posted on social media. 

Along with contributions to football, Braley championed sport in Hamilton by helping to bring the World Cycling Championships to the city in 2012. 

He was also part of southern Ontario’s successful bid for the 2015 Pan Am Games, which saw Tim Hortons Field host all 32 soccer matches. 

“David Braley…was our champion in every sense of the word,” said CFL commissioner Randy Ambrosie in a statement. 

“David didn’t just talk about this idea. He lived it. An owner of the Hamilton Tiger-Cats, as well as the Argos and Lions, he often stepped in to sustain and turn around franchises when they needed him the most.”

Braley was born in Montreal in 1941, but moved to Hamilton two years later. The Ticats say he discovered his true passion for football after attending his first Tiger-Cats game at Ivor Wynne Stadium. 

He played high school football at Westdale Secondary School, studied sciences at McMaster University, and worked with General Motors Acceptance Corporation in Hamilton and then with London Life Insurance.

In 1969, he purchased William Orlick Industries, which is now known as Orlick Industries, and transformed it into a leading manufacture of aluminum die-cast auto parts that provided hundreds of jobs in the Hamilton area. 

Braley has donated over $125 million to various organizations, says the Ticats media release. 

From August 2006 to June 2007, he donated $50 million to McMaster’s medical school and another $5 million for the university’s athletic centre, which is named after him. 

Braley also gave $10 million to Hamilton Health Sciences for a new cardiac, vascular and research institute, also named after the philanthropist, and $5 million to St. Joseph’s Healthcare for operating rooms and kidney care. 



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Andrew Wilkinson resigning as B.C. Liberal leader after worst party showing in decades

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Andrew Wilkinson has resigned as leader of the B.C. Liberal Party, two days after the party had its worst provincial election outcome in decades.  

Wilkinson announced his resignation in a very brief address to the media on Monday. He said he has asked the party’s president to begin the work to find his successor and that he will step down when his replacement is found.

“Leading the B.C. Liberals has been a great honour, but now it’s time for me to make room for someone else to take over this role,” he said. 

Wilkinson took no questions from reporters.

Saturday night’s election results saw John Horgan’s B.C. NDP capture a majority of seats, a disastrous outcome for the Liberals that led to the possibility that Wilkinson, who was elected leader in 2018, would lose leadership of his party.

The Liberals face a projected loss of 12 seats in the legislature after voting day. As many as 525,000 mail-in ballots will be counted in the next two weeks. 

The announcement comes after a disastrous outcome for the B.C. Liberals in Saturday’s provincial election. 1:40

The B.C. NDP is projected to take 55 of B.C.’s 87 ridings, compared to 29 for the Liberals and three for the Green Party.

It will be the first majority government for the NDP in British Columbia since 1996, and while the B.C. Liberals will stand as the Official Opposition, it will be with the lowest seat count the party has had since 1991.

Wilkinson, 63, served in several cabinet positions when in government, including minister of justice and advanced education.

Reaction to results

Wilkinson addressed constituents and the media Saturday night. He acknowledged the NDP were “clearly ahead” based on preliminary results, but did not concede, saying the race wasn’t over until the mail-in ballot count.

“We’ll have more to say going forward but for now we all have a responsibility to be patient, to respect the democratic process and to await the final results,” he said before leaving the stage at his campaign headquarters.

But Wilkinson appeared to concede on Sunday evening, saying he phoned Horgan around 5 p.m. PT to offer his congratulations.

“The people of B.C. have spoken,” Wilkinson wrote in a tweet.

Horgan thanked Wilkinson for his dedication to the people of B.C., acknowledging the challenge he faced serving as Opposition leader.

“I’ve done that job, and I’ve often said it is the toughest job in politics,” Horgan said in a statement. “Mr. Wilkinson led the Official Opposition through a very challenging time for our province. He ran a spirited campaign and I wish him the best in the future.”

Wilkinson seemed to have trouble connecting with voters during the campaign.

He made comments about renting being a “wacky time of life” and described domestic violence victims as “people who are in a tough marriage“. 

Wilkinson also did not immediately face the press after sexist comments were made by candidate Jane Thornthwaite during a video conversation he was a part of. 

Who’s next?

Dianne Watts, former Surrey mayor and runner-up in the last B.C. Liberal leadership race, told CBC on Monday she felt Wilkinson’s wait time before addressing the sexist comments likely did not sit well with voters.

When asked if she was up for the task of replacing Wilkinson should the party look for a new leader, Watts laughed.

“Been there, done that, bought the T-shirt,” she said.

Longtime Liberal and Prince George-Valemount MLA Shirley Bond’s name has been floated as a possible replacement.

She told CBC’s Daybreak North on Monday it’s a role she is not considering.

“It’s not something I’ve ever aspired to,” she said.

Bond said she’s focused on serving her constituents and is looking forward to being part of a Liberal party that will need to explore what it will take to resonate further with British Columbians. 

“My job is to be part of this team as it asks some really hard questions about did we do, what do we need to do and how do we begin to re-engage with British Columbians in every corner of this province,” Bond said.



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