In October of 2013, the International Network of Civil Liberties Organizations released a report about the crackdown on peaceful protests in democracies around the world – the tactics include excessive (sometimes deadly) police force and the criminalization of dissent. This is the introduction to the study, “Take Back the Streets,” which details cases of suppression in the U.S., U.K., Canada, Israel, Egypt, Argentina, South Africa, Kenya, and Hungary.
In June 2010, hundreds of thousands of Canadians took to the streets of Toronto to peacefully protest the G20 Summit, which was taking place behind a fortified fence that walled off much of the city’s downtown core. On the Saturday evening during the Summit weekend, a senior Toronto Police Commander sent out an order – “take back the streets.” Within a span of 36 hours, over 1000 people – peaceful protesters, journalists, human rights monitors and downtown residents – were arrested and placed in detention.
The title of this publication is taken from that initial police order.
It is emblematic of a very concerning pattern of government conduct: the tendency to transform individuals exercising a fundamental democratic right – the right to protest – into a perceived threat that requires a forceful government response. The case studies detailed in this report, each written by a different domestic civil liberties and human rights organization, provide contemporary examples of different governments’ reactions to peaceful protests. They document instances of unnecessary legal restrictions, discriminatory responses, criminalization of leaders, and unjustifiable – at times deadly – force.