Most Torontonians now believe police actions during the G20 summit were unjustified, signalling “a monumental shift” in public perception, according to an Angus Reid Public Opinion poll commissioned by the Toronto Star.
Immediately following last year’s summit, 73 per cent of Torontonians said police were justified in their response to demonstrations. One year later, that figure has dropped to only 41 per cent — a dramatic, 32-point percentage drop.
“Nearly half the people who said they supported the police actions a year ago have changed their minds,” said pollster Jaideep Mukerji, vice-president of Angus Reid. “It’s on that magnitude.”
The pendulum has swung sharply in the opposite direction. Just after the summit, 23 per cent of those polled felt the police response to G20 demonstrations was unjustified. That figure now has grown to 54 per cent.
The new poll also found that more than two-thirds of Torontonians support a full public inquiry into police actions during the summit.
In an interview Friday, Toronto Police Chief Bill Blair said those polled did not have the benefit of his G20 policing review, released Thursday.
“I think if people who have concerns about the police read that report they will have a much better understanding of what transpired,” Blair said.
Results of the exclusive poll were released just ahead of the G20 weekend’s first anniversary. In June 2010, the meeting of world leaders in Toronto brought with it a multi-million dollar security operation, mass demonstrations and rioting.
Police arrested more than 1,100 people — the largest mass arrest in Canadian history — though most were never charged.
Two Toronto police officers have been charged with assaulting protesters in the ensuing months. The charges were laid after intense media scrutiny and the reopening of once-closed cases by the Special Investigations Unit, whose work appeared to be hindered by a “blue wall of silence” among officers.
A majority of Torontonians polled said they are not confident in the SIU’s ability to hold officers accountable, which partly explains the vast support for a public inquiry, Mukerji said. Ongoing media attention on G20 fallout also helped to turn public opinion, he said.
The online survey of 702 adult Torontonians was conducted June 20 to 22, 2011, even before the Toronto Star reported on the filing of a lawsuit Thursday by a 33-year-old paralegal. In it, Sean Salvati claims that on the cusp of the G20 summit, police forcibly strip-searched and beat him before escorting him naked past a female officer on a public intoxication charge that was never filed.
In the review, the Chief admitted police were overwhelmed and underprepared for many aspects of the summit, and may have been too confrontational with law-abiding protesters. The report laments the short planning time the police had to prepare, but it does not directly address the widespread arrests without charge.
A majority of citizens, 56 per cent, say they still have “a lot” or “complete” confidence in police, which Mukerji said is “still a fairly high level.”
“But the second you bring up the concept of the G20, you can see that it really has stained the credibility of the TPS.”
Police services board chair Alok Mukherjee said the poll’s results are worrying, but with effort police can regain the public’s trust. “It’s simply a call for very committed transparent responses to the issues that have arisen as a result of the G20.”
The city, however, is also split on the future of Blair as police chief. Thirty-seven per cent of respondents say he should resign; 43 per cent say he should stay on. One in five respondents are not sure.
Blair said Friday he has no intention of resigning.
The poll also addressed the controversial “kettling” of protesters at Queen St. W. and Spadina during the summit. About 300 people — a group that included not only protesters, but also curious onlookers and passersby — were detained in the intersection by riot police for hours during a torrential downpour.
Half of respondents (50 per cent) said they felt the kettling of protesters at Queen and Spadinaon the final day of the summit was unjustified, compared to 43 per cent who said it was warranted.
The Star reported this week that Toronto police will never again use the controversial technique. Blair’s review said police must find other ways to identify and extricate criminal elements from a crowd without detaining innocent people.
Torontonians also still have a bad taste in their mouths regarding the demonstrations that took place on the city’s streets last year. The words most commonly used to describe their feelings are “disgust” (68 per cent), “anger” (61 per cent) and “shame” (58 per cent). The question did not distinguish between peaceful protests and the actions of rioting vandals.
A vast majority of Torontonians said it was a mistake to host the G20 in the first place — 75 per cent. Eighty-two per cent said the city should never host it again.
The poll is considered accurate within plus or minus 3.7 percentage points.
—with files from Jennifer Yang
G20 poll by the numbers
67%: support holding a public inquiry into the actions of Toronto police during the summit
54%: now believe that the reaction of Toronto police to last year’s demonstrations was unjustified
50%: believe the use of the “kettling” tactic was unjustified
What Torontonians think one year post-G20
82%: would not like to see the city host another G20 meeting
75%: think it was a mistake to hold last year’s G20 summit in Toronto
60%: say they are “not too confident” or “not confident at all” in the Special Investigations Unit being able to hold police officers accountable for their actions
44%: say their confidence in Toronto police is not as high now as it was before the G20 summit
37%: think Toronto police Chief Bill Blair should resign