G20 and Legal Observers
It is clear that the right to protest at next year’s G20 is highly vulnerable to expanding police powers and to police discretion. When the Honourable Police Minister Jack Dempsey introduced the G20 Bill, he emphasised to the Queensland Parliament that at the G20 Forum Brisbane will be on display to the world. This is true. But more than our streets, our river and our business and industries are on display, our values will be on display as well. The positive promotion of our great State is aligned with our due regard for human rights.
The world viewed Canada negatively in the wake of the G20 there. Russia hosted this year’s G20 just last month. Russia’s strong crackdown on anti-government sentiments saw few protestors dare to take to the streets. To the world watching, this underscored Russia’s appalling human rights record. We are a country that prides itself on our democratic values and our protection of rights. However, there is a clear risk that our police and community will clash because of these proposed laws. These negative interactions will be inconsistent with the way we view ourselves and the way we hope other nations view us.
One way to promote accountability of police discretion powers is through legal observers on the ground. Legal observers are independent from any protest group. They watch and record interactions between police and protestors. They do not engage in conversation with police or provide advice to persons being arrested. Their presence is designed to deter the misuse of police powers. They are clearly identifiable by the wearing of white lab coats with clear text saying “legal observer”.
Caxton Legal Centre is co-ordinating a group of legal observers for next year’s G20 event. This was done in Toronto and in London. At the Brisbane G20, all legal observers will be volunteer practitioners. In Toronto, there were close to 100 legal observers who volunteered. Caxton needs help to get the numbers and facilitate this important human rights protection. I call upon Queensland practitioners to express their interest by contacting Caxton.
The role and responsibilities of legal observers should be included in the G20 Bill as well as in the police operational procedure manual. This ensures that police understand the rights and responsibilities of this group.