MLA Howard Epstein stopped short Sunday of calling for a public commission of inquiry into "wildly inappropriate" police behaviour at Saturday's G-7 protests in Halifax.
"I don't know that a formal inquiry is necessary here, but the police have to get the message that there is a perfectly legitimate place that is protected in our Constitution for protest," he said at a news conference organized by demonstrators from the Atlantic G-7 Welcoming Committee.
The NDP MLA for Halifax Chebucto attended the demonstration on Argyle Street for 90 minutes early Saturday afternoon as an observer and participant. He says the police reaction was "out of balance" with the actions of the protesters.
"It was fairly apparent to me (Saturday) that the RCMP had really learned nothing as a result of the APEC inquiry," he said. He was referring to hearings on the 1997 Vancouver conference of Asia-Pacific Economic Co-operation members, held at the University of British Columbia. RCMP arrested 42 protesters there after using pepper spray on the crowd.
As in Vancouver, the RCMP in Halifax failed in "accommodating and giving full respect for the rights of all citizens in our country to stand up and demonstrate in public places and to have their say," Mr. Epstein said.
Police used tear gas and in some cases, stun guns to subdue protesters gathered around the World Trade and Convention Centre, where the finance ministers of the world's seven most powerful industrial nations were meeting. The RCMP and Halifax Regional Police were responsible for security arrangements.
Mr. Epstein plans to file a formal complaint with the RCMP about his injuries from tear gas and officers' interference with his right to protest. And he urged others to do the same.
He disputed the police claim that officers were threatened.
"The police were not physically pushed at all up to the point when I left," he said, noting the repeated volleys of tear gas and the cold were enough to convince him to leave the area at about 2:30 p.m.
He described the sequence of events, saying the crowds on Argyle Street were dancing, making noise and throwing water balloons.
Then demonstrators removed the metal barriers, which stood between police and protesters.
"And that was it," he said.
Right after that, without warning, officers fired tear gas into the crowd.
"They gave no warning, no instructions to move back, nor made any attempts to move the barrier back in place.
"They simply set off the tear gas."
Despite being a veteran of several protests, as "anyone of my generation would be," Mr. Epstein said he'd never been tear-gassed. Referring to the repeated volleys of tear gas fired at protesters on Saturday, he said: "that third time, it really hurt."
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