By: Cara McKenna, The Canadian Press
The most senior police officer charged over mass arrests made during the Toronto’s G20 summit in 2010 was found guilty on three out of five offences at a disciplinary hearing on Tuesday.
Retired Ontario judge John Hamilton, who had been presiding over the case, found Supt. David (Mark) Fenton guilty of two of three counts of unnecessary exercise of authority and one of two counts of discreditable conduct.
Hamilton said Fenton is committed to serving the public but was working with a lack of understanding of the public’s right to protest when he chose to order the boxing in and mass arrest of protesters five years ago.
“This case is about the order that Supt. Fenton made and the consequences that fell from them,” he said. “Legitimate protesters … had the right not to be subject to arrest for making noise, chanting and sitting in the public street.”
Fenton had pleaded not guilty to a total of five Police Services Act charges stemming from two “kettling” incidents that occurred during the chaotic 2010 summit weekend.
The first took place on Saturday, June 26, 2010, hours after a small group of vandals smashed windows and set police cruisers alight.
Fenton ordered officers to box in protesters in front of the Novotel hotel on The Esplanade. More than 260 people were arrested and taken to a makeshift processing centre, which came under severe criticism for its deplorable conditions.
The second incident occurred the next day when, six minutes after coming on shift, Fenton ordered police to keep scores of people standing for hours at Queen Street West and Spadina Avenue despite a severe thunderstorm that left them drenched.
Hamilton said Fenton was charged with discreditable conduct because he had a responsibility to protect detainees from the harsh weather.
Fenton was found not guilty of a second count of discreditable conduct for detaining people at the hotel because those people “were not subject to unduly harsh conditions,” Hamilton wrote in his ruling.
Hamilton said Fenton’s decision to order mass arrests of the crowds in both cases was an unnecessary exercise of authority, and he had no legal or probable grounds to arrest people for breach of peace or conspiracy to commit mischief.
“That said, containing or kettling is not illegal,” Hamilton said, adding the action was not prohibited by the Toronto Police Service’s policies at the time of the summit.
Hamilton said Fenton was found not guilty on the third count of unnecessary exercise of authority involving detained protesters because Fenton was not responsible for the amount of time they were held or for monitoring them because an officer of equal rank was in charge.
More than 1,000 people were detained over the summit weekend in what is considered the largest mass arrest in Canada’s peacetime history. Most were released without charge.
Fenton’s lawyer Peter Brauti said while they were disappointed with the ruling, his client regrets what transpired.
“Fenton had a very difficult job during the G20 trying to control unprecedented violence and property damage that was occurring in the city,” Brauti said. “He had to make quick decisions and judgement calls to protect the city.”
“He deeply regrets that some of those decisions lead to the arrest of people who were not involved in the violence and that some people were held in the rain for hours. He would like to personally apologize to all those [innocent] parties that were negatively affected.”
Fenton, who has been with the police force for just under 27 years, faces possible penalties ranging from reprimand to dismissal. A hearing will be set for a later day to determine his fate.
With files from Tammie Sutherland