Action against action
By Sandra Dimitrakopoulos
When a group of student protestors from Guelph were strip-searched, handcuffed and jailed during a Bill 160 protest in November, members of the Canadian Civil Liberties Association believed it was time to take action.
The seven female protestors taken from the demonstration that was held in protest of a visit by Education Minister Dave Johnson, were brought to the Wellington Detention Centre and held for several hours where they received treatment the group believed to be inappropriate. Shortly after, the story was brought to the media.
Sarah Vance, a student activist and one of the protestors jailed, said they were approached, after going public, by CCLA who offered to look into legal options the group could take.
CCLA was eager to assess the situation and more specifically, the role played by authority members, said general counsel person Alan Borovoy. "We try to promote fair play by authorities in order to ensure that rights and freedoms of citizens are respected."
Several options have been offered thus far, but Vance said the group feels unsure about making the decision on their own. This is further complicated by the process of lodging a complaint with the police department which Vance said uses internal systems to investigate complaints and therefore has a vested interest in the outcome.
"We feel we don't want to put a huge amount of time into following up on a complaint with internal systems that don't work."
Complaints brought to the police station are investigated internally first but individuals unsatisfied with the final decision may send an appeal to the Ontario Civilian Commission on Police Services which acts externally, said Staff Sgt. Don Potterfield of the professional standards branch for the Guelph Police Department.
Officials at both the Guelph Police Department and the Ontario Correctional Services are also still insisting there was no foul play by police and they made legitimate use of the facilities.
"Anyone admitted to a provincial institution has to go through showering and search facilities," said OCA spokesperson Ross Virgo. The protesters were taken to the maximum security prison after being told there were not enough cells at the Guelph police station.
Fred Fenwick, spokesperson for the Guelph Police, said the police were justified in taking the protestors to Wellington because of the overflow.
CCLA sent a faxed request to the Guelph Police in the hope of meeting on Feb. 12 about the protest.
"What we're looking for, ultimately, is proper accountability."