This story is over 5 years old.


The Toronto Police Commander Who Detained G20 Protesters in 2010 Has Been Found Guilty of Unlawful Arrests

Superintendent Mark Fenton took the fall for using a controversial "kettling" tactic, but many think accountability needs to go higher up the chain of command.

Photo via Flickr user andrewarchy

This article originally appeared on VICE Canada.

Five years after he was detained for hours in downtown Toronto, soaked in rain and certain that his civil rights—the ones he'd left Iran in search of—were being trampled on, Shervin Akhavi finally has some peace of mind. But it's not enough, he said.

The civil engineer is one of hundreds of Torontonians who was arrested by Toronto police without cause during the G20 summit in June 2010. The two-day event was marked by a massive police presence and numerous concrete barriers throughout the downtown core, which exacerbated tensions between authorities and lawful protestors, resulting in torched police cars, roving platoons of riot cops, and many civilians being unlawfully detained.


On Tuesday, following a long drawn-out disciplinary hearing, Superintendent Mark Fenton of Toronto Police Services was found guilty of discreditable conduct and unlawful or unnecessary arrests. He is the highest ranking officer to be disciplined under the Police Services Act for the handling of G20. His sentence has yet to be determined.

But for Akhavi, who along with a handful of others filed a complaint to the Office of the Independent Police Review Director, the punishment matters little.

"I'm happy about the decision, that at least one person has been held accountable, but…what he gets, that's not important to me," he told VICE.

"Really, I think that we're missing a public inquiry that would shed light on how everything came about."

The "arrests"
Fenton was found guilty of two counts of unlawful or unnecessary arrests. One related to the mass arrest of 260 people in front of downtown Toronto's Novotel hotel Saturday, June 26, 2010. It was the first of two times that weekend police would employ a tactic called "kettling" to box citizens in and detain them for an extended period of time.

That day, Akhavi and his friend had been protesting a climate change policy; on the Sunday they headed downtown to check out a security fence that had been erected for the conference and on their way back, encountered a group of protesters at Queen St. West and Spadina Ave. They stopped.

"Maybe 20 minutes later we were… boxed in," said Akhavi. Police formed a barrier around the intersection, preventing anyone inside, including peaceful protesters, journalists, and bystanders, from leaving.


Erin Cauchi, a producer with Al Jazeera America, was president of Canadian University Press at the time. She had rushed to the area to vouch for a couple of reporters who were being detained and wound up inside the kettle herself.

"I just immediately said 'Don't worry about it, they'll let us out… We're press, this is obviously not for us.'"

But Cauchi, then 22, didn't have G20 media accreditation—she wasn't a field reporter—and without it, the officer wouldn't let her leave.

"He said, 'You can step up to be arrested right now or we'll take you by force in a few minutes.'"

She was detained until the end, furiously taking notes all the while and later writing about her experience.

Akhavi was eventually handcuffed but never charged with any crime.

"I was born in Iran. My family was persecuted and issues of civil liberty are very important to me," said Akhavi, who has a copy of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms hanging in his kitchen.

"I knew I was going to take this and see someone held responsible for it."

Who walked away clean?
As a major incident commander during the G20 weekend, Fenton was responsible for policing in the downtown core.

Though he testified that he wouldn't change his actions, his lawyer issued an apology following Tuesday's judgment.

"He deeply regrets that some of those decisions led to the arrest of people who were not involved in the violence and that some people were held in the rain for hours," it said. "He would like to personally apologize to all those innocent parties that were negatively affected."


But some are asking why officers more senior to him haven't taken any of the heat, in particular former police chief Bill Blair and then-deputy chief Tony Warr.

Despite being top cop at the time, Blair was not subject to any disciplinary action nor was he called to testify during Fenton's hearing.

Toronto lawyer Adrienne Lei, who represented Akhavi and two other complainants, told VICE her team brought forth an application to summon Blair and Warr, "partly because Fenton was running a Nuremberg defense that he was following the orders of [his] supervisors." It was denied.

Akhavi said the flawed disciplinary process allowed Blair to "dodge the whole thing."

"The (OIPRD) report is handed over to the chief and he appointed the judge and…set up the whole disciplinary hearing. [Blair's] the guy that set up the whole thing and washed his hands of it."

Prime Minister Stephen Harper and the federal connection
The G20 was originally meant to be held in Huntsville, ON, along with the G8, but that location was deemed to be too small, and was moved to Toronto.

"We never saw an apology from politicians who made the decision to host the G20 in Toronto," Laura Berger, interim director of public safety for the Canadian Civil Liberties Association told VICE.

"I think it would have been appropriate after the G20 to hear from federal leadership what happened on that weekend. A tremendous number of innocent Canadians were arrested and detained."


An investigation into the RCMP, who were present throughout the G20 weekend, more or less cleared them of any wrongdoing.

Kettling isn't part of RCMP policy, but the report found that because the RCMP was essentially taking orders from Toronto police, their actions were "reasonable under the circumstances."

Berger of the CCLA said it's far more complicated than that.

"This was a decision that involved the RCMP. There were a wide range of bad decisions that were made," she told VICE.

"This is why (the CCLA) called for a broad scale public inquiry, which we never saw."

Future implications
Toronto was in a police state during the weekend of the G20 summit. Though their memories are unpleasant, some of those who lived through it are more disturbed at the thought that this kind of large-scale abuse of power could take hold again.

"It's distressing for me from a democratic perspective that this is how we police people, this is how we run this place," said Cauchi.

"This is happening in Ferguson, this is happening everywhere," added Lei. "You have police come in and they don't ask questions, they just take these stances that make it appear that Martial law is actually something that can be done and that isn't the rule of law."

Follow Manisha Krishnan on Twitter.