Guelph protesters seek objective examination
By Sara Marett
Guelph's City Council decided Monday to not intervene in an incident involving seven females who were strip-searched and held in a maximum security detention centre following a protest at a Tory fund-raiser in November.
The seven women were charged with breaching the peace at the protest and would like an independent investigation into how the police handled the matter. But council decided they would wait to see the results of an internal review by the Guelph Police Department before becoming involved in the matter.
Following the Nov. 18 protest, the females were taken to Wellington Detention Centre because there were not enough cells to hold them at the Guelph Police Department. There, they were handcuffed, strip-searched and jailed for over eight hours.
Shortly after the incident became public, the Canadian Civil Liberties Association stepped in to help the seven women with their case. The association registered a complaint with the Guelph Police Services Board, which requested the Guelph chief of police conduct an internal review of the incident. The report is scheduled to be presented to the Board April 9.
"It is not something that the council should become involved with it is a police services matter and they are dealing with it," said Lynda Prior, a Guelph city councillor.
But Alan Borovoy, general counsel for the liberites association, said he was very disappointed with council's response to his request Monday for an independent investigation. "It was an opportunity for the people in positions of leadership to exercise their leadership abilities and they declined."
Borovoy said council's decision to wait for the chief of police's report was a "lame excuse." He said the issue has raised concerns amongst the public regarding the behaviour of the police officers. "There are some serious questions about what the police were doing that night."
Sarah Vance, a fifth-year social science student at the University of Guelph, was one of the seven women charged and strip-searched that night. She said the women collectively decided not to participate in the police's review as they felt it would not be objective. "The chief has publicly stated she believes the police did nothing wrong that night and has a vested interest in the reputation of the police department how could this be an unbiased investigation?"
But the police department claims they have taken measures to make the investigation more objective. Paul Deeves, acting inspector of operations for the Guelph Police Department said they have an officer from the Halton Regional Police working on the investigation as well, who will inform all those involved of their right to register a complaint.
Vance, however, said this is not a measure of objectivity. "This is still someone from within the system they have the same interests at heart." She said the only way for the women to have an external investigation of the incident would be to file a lawsuit against the Guelph police. "It is something we are looking into, but it means a lot of money and time, something we don't have."