Jayme Poisson and Jennifer Yang, Toronto Star, Sat May 26 2012
Toronto police Insp. Gary Meissner is facing disciplinary action for ordering the early-morning raid and unlawful mass arrests at the University of Toronto during the G20 summit two years ago, the Star has learned.
In a 120-page report, the province’s police complaint’s watchdog alleges Meissner was responsible for one of the most embarrassing errors committed by police during the G20. On June 27, 2010, he failed to obtain a proper warrant before officers under his command barged into a U of T gym and arrested more than 100 people — all of whom later had their charges withdrawn due to the oversight. In a report dated March 2011, a House of Commons standing committee condemned the U of T operation.
While it has been previously reported that Meissner is one of two senior Toronto police officers facing misconduct hearings, it was unclear what the allegations were against him until now. He was also in charge of deploying the Long Range Acoustic Device (LRAD) at Queen’s Park.
The Office of the Independent Police Review Director is recommending charges be laid against Meissner under the Police Services Act. The charges are not criminal and Meissner has not yet had the opportunity to defend himself against the allegations. If the charges are upheld, penalties range from docked pay to termination.
Attempts to reach Meissner on Friday were unsuccessful.
On May 15, the OIPRD completed a comprehensive report on the U of T arrests, which was not publicly released but has been obtained by the Star from one of five people arrested who complained to the arm’s length agency.
Meissner, a 27-year police veteran, was the commander of Group Four of the Public Order Unit during the summit weekend, with command over approximately 250 officers. He was in charge of the raid at U of T’s Graduate Student Union, which took place the morning after vandals using “black bloc” tactics wreaked havoc on the downtown core, and police were issued orders to “take back the streets.”
Almost all the people arrested while sleeping in the gymnasium were from Quebec.
The report concludes there are reasonable grounds to believe Meissner committed misconduct when he ordered those arrests. It went on to say that while it appeared as if Meissner had enough evidence to believe some of the gymnasium’s occupants were involved in illegal activity the day before, the criminal code does not allow for the arrest of a group of people en masse.
The report says Meissner appeared to have had enough information to detain the occupants and determine if any were culpable, but that he simply ordered that everyone be arrested.
The report concludes Meissner also committed misconduct when he decided to arrest everyone in the gymnasium for “unlawful assembly” stemming from the previous day. The criminal code does not allow an officer to arrest someone for that offence without a warrant unless they are “found participating in an unlawful assembly,” says the report.
“Accordingly, the arrests were unlawful and resulted in a subsequent unlawful detention.”
In his interview with the OIPRD, Meissner said he was tasked with dispersing the crowd at Queen’s Park the previous evening, when bottles, bricks and sticks with placards were thrown at police. According to Meissner, he saw car windows being smashed as the crowd dispersed toward Hoskins Ave., which runs through the heart of U of T.
“At that point, it was quite clear to me we still had people that were armed in the crowd,” he told OIPRD investigators.
Meissner said he later confirmed the crowd dispersed without boarding public transit, leading him to conclude it likely had connections to student groups in the area. The suspicion was reinforced the next morning when a retired Toronto police officer, working for U of T as a private investigator, advised Meissner he had taken pictures of people wearing “black bloc attire and masking and concealing their identities,” outside the student union.
Meissner told the OIPRD he initially intended to secure the perimeter of the student union as a search warrant to “enter the dwelling and seize property” was being prepared. But as his team did so, people began to exit the building and he worried police presence would become known. He said that when he entered the building through an open door, he found walls with schedules and evidence of “organization” in the basement. When he realized people were starting to wake up in the gymnasium, he announced that everyone would be arrested for “unlawful assembly.”
In his testimony before a House of Commons committee in March 2011, Chief Bill Blair defended police actions at U of T. He said a decision was made not to penetrate the destructive crowd that broke away from peaceful protesters because “it would have created a more dangerous situation.”
“In fact, an operational decision was made by the investigators that a safer place to apprehend people whom they believed were involved in criminal activity was the school gymnasium, away from the crowd,” Blair said at the time. “That was a safer thing to do.”
Several of those arrested said they had been part of peaceful protests and that officers entered the gymnasium with rubber bullet guns drawn, Tasers pointed, and yelling “get up.” Some alleged arrests were “violent.”
Those arrested were brought to the prisoner processing centre on Eastern Ave., and then transported either to Vanier Centre for Women or the West Detention Centre. Their charges were changed from “participating in an unlawful assembly” to the more serious charge of “conspiracy to commit an indictable offence,” according to the report, which also noted that Meissner was not aware the charge was changed and said he would not have laid that charge.
In October 2010, all charges stemming from the arrests were withdrawn.
Maryse Poisson (no relation to the reporter), a social work student from Montreal who was arrested in the raid, said she was surprised to see such “simple” reasoning on Meissner’s part for justifying the arrests. Namely, that people smashing vehicles had dispersed in the area the night before, and that a private investigator informed Meissner he had pictures of people wearing certain clothing.
“It was a logic shortcut,” said Poisson, 23