Prime Minister Stephen Harper spent yesterday in meetings developing a strategy and response to the uprising unfolding in Libya. Following on the United Nations Security Council’s unanimous decision to condemn Libyan President Muammar Kaddafi’s violent attempt to cling to power, Canada has announced a string of sanctions against the dictator.

Canada’s measures will help further isolate the Kaddafi regime and send an important message to his supporters that the world is watching and reject Kaddafi and his government. This will hopefully assist in further de-legitimizing his hold on power. It will also strengthen the resolve of those protesters who are bravely raising their voices and challenging the lack of democracy in their country. They are literally putting their life at risk by exercising their right to free speech.

Speaking at a press conference in Vancouver, Harper said of the violence against the protesters: "We find the actions of the government firing upon its own citizens to be outrageous and unacceptable and we call on the government to cease this kind of violence immediately.”

Richard Lautens / Toronto Star

In announcing Canada’s new sanctions, which will be even tougher than what the UN is calling for, Stephen Harper said the gross violations of the population's human rights will not be tolerated by the international community, and will carry serious consequences. The sanctions announced by Harper lent credibility to his words.

The Prime Minister’s principled defence of free speech and condemnation of violence against protesters in Libya stands in stark contrast to his government’s actions against its own citizens during the G20 Summit in Toronto last June.

Today the Canadian Civil Liberties Association released a report on the police actions at the summit and the finding are chilling. Key findings in the report include:

-“The scale of civil-rights violations go way beyond a few misbehaving police officers and were endorsed high up the chain of command.”
- Many protesters were told by police that martial law had been declared and that they had no rights;
-Police hid their identity badges to avoid identification during illegal actions; and
-The violent dispersal of peaceful protests, mass arrests and illegal detentions all point to a concerted police strategy.

The report recommends a provincial inquiry in order to answer outstanding questions of how and why the police were able to essentially suspend or disregard the rights of thousands of citizens in order to reign in “a small cohort of vandals.”

Greenpeace was one of four sponsoring organizations of the Saturday peaceful rally and march at the Summit. I walked with a huge contingent of environmentalists including our international director, Kumi Naidoo, and our message to world leaders was clear: stop subsidizing fossil fuels and get serious about climate change while we still have time. Unfortunately, this message got lost in the vandalism and the police actions that followed the march. 

The legacy of the summit however will be a long one. In the largest mass arrest in Canadian history, hundreds of peaceful protesters were arrested and detained only to be let go, charges dropped, many hours later. A clear message having been delivered to the broader public: don’t attend protests because even peaceful protesters can get arrested and ill-treated.

We worked with police to ensure a peaceful event and promoted the rally and march as a family friendly event – a way to safely exercise your democratic rights of free speech, and freedom of assembly. Increasingly it appears the police and government had a different agenda.

Stephen Harper cannot credibly admonish Libya for their human rights abuses and simultaneously refuse to submit to a full public inquiry as to what happened at the G20 summit.

Democracy is an ongoing process and not the end game. When we disregard abuses of power for whatever reason, big or small, our democracy is weakened. We cannot correct what happened at the G20 but we can learn from it.

Greenpeace supports the call for a full public inquiry. Contact Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty and tell them you want to know the truth about what happened at the G20. Click here to send them a message.