The kettling of G20 protesters in London was illegal, a British High Court has ruled in a case with sweeping implications in Toronto.
The decision Thursday by the Queen’s Bench justices said police were working “in good faith” but still overreacted when they corralled 4,500 people inside a Climate Camp in London for three hours on April 1, 2009.
“The police may only take such preventive action as a last resort catering for situations about to descend into violence,” the Queen’s Bench justices.
“The test of necessity is met only in truly extreme and exceptional cases.”
“This is groundbreaking,” lawyer John Halford, representing the claimants, told the Star. “Never has there been a judicial review challenging a mass use of force by a lot of officers at once.”
This was “the blunt instrument being used when a scalpel is available,” he said.
“It is not necessary to make thousands of others suffer because police can’t be bothered to arrest the ones who are responsible.”
“This case is very important and will be used by us in the court,” said Murray Klippenstein, who has filed a $45 million class action lawsuit against the Toronto Police Services Board over the G20 in Toronto last June.
Office administrator Sherry Good is representing everyone wrongfully arrested, detained, imprisoned or held by police on June 26 or 27.
Good had been among about 200 protesters and bystanders boxed in by police for four hours on June 27 in a downpour at Queen St. and Spadina Ave.
The British ruling “is not legally binding but would be persuasive,” said Klippenstein. “The underlying principles that balance freedom to speak publicly in the street go back a long way in Canada and Britain.
“The words the court used are quite strong in defending freedoms that should not be encroached upon just for the convenience of the police,” he said. “There is a great deal of similarity between the two cases. We see precisely the principles of our Sherry Good class action.”
Toronto police spokesman Mark Pugash told the Star: “It’s not appropriate to comment” on a court decision in a “foreign jurisdiction.”
Toronto police said at the time they believed violent demonstrators with the Black Bloc were inside the Queen and Spadina crowd. The day before, black-clad demonstrators had smashed their way up Yonge St. during a demonstration against the G20 economic summit.
The British case was particularly unusual in that the justices insisted on questioning Metropolitan Police Services Chief Supt. Michael Johnson themselves even though he had already given a statement.
Johnson told the justices police feared violent demonstrators at London’s Royal Exchange 500 metres away would infiltrate and disrupt the peaceful Climate Camp.
At 7:07 p.m., police surrounded, or kettled, the camp. Nobody could leave.
Also at issue was the police “shield strikes,” jabbing riot shields at a crowd 15-deep to shove them back 30 metres. That, the justices declared, “was not necessary or proportionate.”
The justices, who included president of the Queen’s Bench division Sir Anthony May, stopped short of declaring kettling itself unlawful.
Still, London’s Metropolitan Police Service said Thursday it will appeal.
“At the heart of this case lies a vital public order policing tactic,” the MPS said in a statement.
The Climate Camp kettling “prevented further scenes of violence and criminal damage,” the London police force said.
A cordon keeping violent protesters out might have been necessary, the High Court ruled, but one keeping people in the Climate Camp wasn’t.
“There had been no disorder or violence at the climate Camp, not even when 200-300 so called hardcore protesters joined at around 4:40 p.m.,” The court declared.
“At 7:07 p.m., there was no breach of peace, imminent or otherwise.”
Halford said he’s confident “we can hold the victory” under appeal.
“The police didn’t use kettling until recently,” said Halford. “Police have managed to police without resorting to this as long as there have been large demonstrations in the capitals of cities. It isn’t necessary.
“It’s used increasingly in more and more peaceful demonstrations which are just inconvenient.
As in Toronto, the McClure-Moos case is a class action, said Halford.
“There were 4,500 people within the kettle. Each of them is equally a victim.”
The Toronto class action suit will likely reach the certification stage in Spring, 2012, Klippenstein said.
“It is clear that can only be a last resort when situations are about to descend into violence,” said Klippenstein.
“We continue to believe this was frankly illegal and does require the court to say so.”
Nearly 10 months later, he said, “Sherry Good is still nervous in walking in public down the street.”