Friday, June 25, 2010

Sound cannon use at G20: temporary win but possibly long term disrepute

So the decision came down on the sound cannon injunction today in Toronto. You can read it courtesy of this link provided by the Globe. The judge held that the voice function was ok but the alert function would be restrained.

In terms of the alert function, the judge assessed both the Toronto and Ontario Provincial police guidelines. He found the Ontario Provincial ones to be more thorough and conservative and permitted the use of the alert according to them. The Toronto guidelines, however, weren't as cautious and their ability to use the alert was therefore restrained. The kicker though...he gave the Toronto police the opportunity to adopt the Ontario Provincial force's guidelines and therefore proceed with the use of the alert function. They have done so.

This is good news in that the high decibel level alert will not be used against protesters, unless it occurs according to the stricter OPP guidelines.

There may be bad news for our law enforcement regime in the long run. The judge has stated the matter should proceed to trial. The approval of these devices by the province remains in issue. If the sound cannons are deemed to be "weapons," and therefore requiring approval by the province, then clearly there are issues here about how the law has been followed in the lead up to the G20:
[104] In my view it necessarily follows that a serious question for trial also exists as to whether LRADs are “weapons” within the meaning of section 14(1) of the Regulation. If, after the hearing of the application on the merits, it is found that LRADs are weapons, then there is no dispute that the consent of the Solicitor General has not been secured and section 14(1) of the Regulation not followed. If the court finds that they are not weapons, then the consent of the Solicitor General was not required. On this motion I need not drill down into the merits of this issue. The arguments and evidence advanced by the parties satisfy me that a serious question for trial exists on whether LRADs fall within the category of “weapons” within the meaning of the Regulation. (emphasis added)
So, potentially, we could be in a situation where it is found that proper approvals have not been followed with the use of these devices. In the meantime, they're being used. Also note this part in the judge's decision, furthering the point:
[118] I also accept the applicants‟ contention that deployment of the LRADs without proper statutory authorization, if such authorization is required, could constitute irreparable harm to the public interest in the sense of avoiding or undermining an established statutory regime. Regulation 926 under the Police Services Act reflects a legislative decision to place control over the selection and use of devices that could function as weapons in civilian, not police, hands. I accept the applicants‟ submission that:
“the requirement of Ministry approval under Regulation 926 is aimed at ensuring accountability, consistency and a measure of public oversight in the police‟s deployment of weapons and use of force. It is also aimed at ensuring that new weapons technologies conform to established technical standards, and may be safely deployed.”
Failure by a police force to secure approval from the Solicitor General for the use of a weapon constitutes a form of irreparable harm for purposes of injunction analysis. (emphasis added)
So a mixed bag on this one today. The haste in which these devices were rolled out has advantaged their use and basically avoided provincial scrutiny, exploiting the grey area of the term "weapon." Score one for police pushing the limits in a context of lax civilian oversight.

That democratic deficit continuing to show here...

More coverage here.