G20 reporters complain to police watchdog

Four journalists have filed complaints with Ontario's police watchdog, alleging physical assaults and threats of sexual violence by police during the Toronto G20 summit, their lawyer says.

Amy Miller, Daniel McIsaac, Jesse Rosenfeld and Lisa Walter each filed complaints about their arrests with the Office of the Independent Police Review Director on Tuesday, their lawyer Julian Falconer of Falconer Charney LLP said in a release.

According to Rosenfeld's complaint, the Toronto-based freelance journalist for the Guardian was covering a group of demonstrators in front of the Novotel hotel in downtown Toronto on Saturday evening when he said he was attacked by police.

Riot police arrived shortly after protesters gathered at the hotel at 10:30 p.m. and boxed in the crowd, saying everyone would be arrested, Rosenfeld said. When he went to ask whether journalists would also be arrested, the 26-year-old said two officers recognized him from a day earlier as "the loud mouth kid that was mouthing off to me yesterday."

That was when he said he was grabbed by two officers, punched in the stomach and back and repeatedly kneed in the ribs.

Rosenfeld said he yelled to them that he was not resisting arrest and that he was a journalist. He was arrested for breach of the peace and taken to the detention centre in the city's east end at midnight where he stayed until his release 18 hours later with no charges.

Threats of sexual violence

According to Miller's complaint, the Montreal-based freelance journalist for the Dominion was covering a group of demonstrators who were detained by police in downtown Toronto on Sunday afternoon when she said she was verbally abused, arrested and taken to the detention centre.

"So you think you're a journalist. You won't be a journalist after we bring you to jail," the 29-year-old recounted an officer saying to her in her complaint. "You're going to be raped. We always like the pretty ones. We're going to wipe the grin off your face when we gang bang you. We know how the Montreal girls roll."

Miller alleged one of the arresting officers repeated the threat when she was at the detention centre. She was released about 12 hours later without any charges.

Lisa Walter, 41, an indie magazine writer for Our Times, said she was thrown to the ground and cuffed as she and another independent journalist covered the same group that was being arrested in downtown Toronto on Sunday afternoon, according to her complaint.

She said officers mocked her, saying her credentials were "fake," questioned whether she was a man and the sergeant who ordered her arrest called her a "f---ing dyke" and "a douche bag," her complaint states.

Walter said she was transported to the detention centre at 1:45 p.m. and tossed into a holding cell with about 24 other women who had to share an open portable toilet. She said her medication was withheld from her for several hours and she was given only two three-ounce glasses of water and a sandwich. Seven hours into her detention, Walter said she was moved to a segregation cell where she learned four of her six neighbours there said they were gay. She believes she was segregated because police thought she was a lesbian.

According to McIsaac's complaint, he was covering the same protest as Miller for the Canadian Youth Climate Coalition. He said he was with Miller when he was assaulted and arrested by police. He was taken to a hospital after telling police that he had a pacemaker and then later transferred to the detention centre. The 27-year-old was also released later without being charged.

Police review urged

"If peaceful protesters and journalists engaged in peaceful coverage are treated this way, this is a sad day for democracy," Falconer said in the release. "My clients are seeking accountability for what appears to be a serious overreaction by some police officers."

Gerry McNeilly, who heads the police watchdog group, said he will look at each complaint and that he has not ruled out putting the complaints together and launching an investigation into "systemic issues" during the G20 protests.

Toronto's police Chief Bill Blair said he'll defend all of the officers' actions, particularly since most of the demonstrations and arrests were caught on video.