PRELIMINARY STATEMENT OF CONCERN: Policing of IMARC Protests

Tuesday 29 October 2019

Melbourne Activist Legal Support (MALS) fielded a team of Legal Observers at this mornings protest events at the International Mining and Resources Conference (IMARC) that took place at the Melbourne Convention & Exhibition Centre
South Wharf in Melbourne, Victoria.

The protest involved activists chanting, singing, holding banners, speaking and linking arms at the entrance of the Conference centre to block the entrance in a peaceful manner.

Image may contain: one or more people and people standing

Legal Observers were present at the site from 6.30am-12.00pm, observing, monitoring and recording police conduct and interactions with protesters. Over that time the team recorded behaviour and noted several areas of concern:

Excessive use of force.

Legal observers have recorded multiple instances of police shoving and pulling protesters with such force that they were propelled to the ground. Police have been observed pushing protesters down concrete stairs and kicking protesters without giving prior warning to move on. Police were observed grabbing and pulling protesters around the neck.  Multiple injuries of protesters have been reported including one protester who was thrown into a cement wall and hit the back of his head.

Use of mounted horses for crowd control.

Police mounted branch have been recorded moving directly into crowds to push back protesters. Multiple injuries have been reported including one activist at 8.00am who received medical attention by emergency service workers with a suspected broken arm and leg. It is well recognised that horses can cause severe, bone breaking injuries.

Legal Observers noticed that the horses were visibly ‘spooked’ by the presence of a large inflatable ‘Earth’ ball. (8:15am). In light of the above, MALS calls upon Victoria Police to immediately withdraw the mounted unit from crowded areas and prohibit their use on future days of the protest event.

Use of capsicum spray and police batons.

Legal Observers recorded police officers using police batons to strike and push back protesters. Several overhead baton strikes were recorded which contravene VicPol’s baton use guidelines.  OC foam and OC spray was also used multiple times by police officers on the crowd of protesters. Despite the crowds being loud and non-compliant, it appears the use of OC spray and police batons was a measure to force compliance with a direction to move on, rather than in response to violence or serious physical threat to police or bystanders, that would warrant such use of force under common law requirements or 462A Crimes Act.

Our observations were that in numerous instances the use of force was excessive, harmful, unnecessary and was well outside of Victoria Police’s Use of Force guidelines.

Removal by police officers of identification name tags and refusal to give identification when asked.

Legal Observers have observed police officers purposely removing their name badges and turning them around to obscure their identification.

Commentary:

By refusing to move IMARC protestors are committing, at worst very minor (Summary Act) offences. These offenses do not justify the use of batons, punches, kicks, dangerous use of horses. Police have a range of tactical options available to them that do not use force (ie. leave a protest in place for periods of time – the protest completed at approximately midday) and present far less risk to everyone. Police tactics such as crowd pushes and maneuvers directly into crowds by the mounted unit turned static and peaceful picket lines into dangerous commotions and generated high degrees of distress and chaos.   Many of the charges laid by police during the event were in direct relation to the actual actions of police. (ie the offense would not have occurred were it not for the police crowd control tactic itself).

At the time of writing, there were an estimated 200+ police officers present and approximately 40+ arrests. Melbourne Activist Legal Support will be attending the blockade each morning  until Thursday 31st to continue our observations.

This is a public document and can be quoted by media.

https://platform.twitter.com/widgets.js

To support Melbourne Activist Legal Support’s work in protecting your space to protest please donate now to our crowdfunding page:https://support-activists.raisely.com/

An Open Letter to Victoria Police:

‘Disruption to others’ does not justify limiting the Right to Peaceful Assembly

6 October 2019

Melbourne Activist Legal Support (MALS) acknowledges the response to our recent Statement of Concern by Victoria Police Assistant Commissioner Luke Cornelius (3 October 2019)

In reply and in light of protest events planned in Melbourne for the month of October we take this opportunity to remind Victoria Police senior command and all operational commanders assigned to public order policing duties over the coming weeks of the following:

There is no basis for claiming that a protest that is deliberately disruptive to the activities of others falls outside the protection of rights to freedom of assembly;

The Right to Peace Assembly, Freedom of Association and the Right to Political Expression have far greater legal protections and recognition both within Victorian legislation and in international law than the Melbourne Flower Show, The Grand Final Day Parade, Moomba and White Night and many other similar public events regularly held in Melbourne’s CBD;

Events such as the Melbourne Flower Show, The Grand Final Day Parade, Moomba and White Night all cause significant disruption to public access to roads, public parks, through traffic, trams and vehicular access. Policing these events includes facilitating the shutting down of significant parts of the city over significant periods of time;

‘Disruption to others’ is not, nor can it be used as an excuse, rationale or justification for limiting or preventing civil society groups from enacting the Right to Peaceful Assembly and The Right to Freedom of Political Expression at public events;1

There is no commensurate ‘right not to be disrupted by other people’s activities’;

In light of the fact that political expression is the most protected by law of all forms of expression. it is arguable that peaceful protest should be facilitated over and above that provided to commercial and community events mentioned above;

We remain concerned about recent public comments made by North West Metro Region Commander Tim Hansen (Herald Sun 4/10/19), that seem to equate disruption with threats of violence as well as earlier comments by Minister for Home Affairs, Peter Dutton. (2GB, 4/10/2019)

International human rights jurisprudence clearly recognises that peaceful assembly, by its very nature, is disruptive, and can inconvenience and be perceived as a nuisance by some people, but that “Rights worth having are unruly things.2.

Furthermore, the actions of some or a minority of people involved in an event do not remove the rights of peaceful assembly for others collectively; individual actions that are unlawful committed in the course of a demonstration cannot be used to justify the removal or limitation of the collective rights to peaceful assembly and expression; 3

The rights to peaceful assembly, association and expression are explicitly recognised and protected within Victorian legislation and international human rights law precisely due to their importance to the establishment and maintenance of a free, equal and democratic society;

In essence, the bar to determine whether ‘disruption’ becomes a threat to ‘public order or safety or morality’ needs to be set quite high.  Particularly in light of the extent of disruption caused regularly by other public events such as community festivals, parades, commercial events and road works which are not protected in legislation.

Any policing of civil society actions or events that limits these Charter rights must be
– lawful
– necessary, reasonable and proportionate, and
– in compliance with the Charter of Human Rights and Responsibilities Act 2006.

Further any limitation must be demonstrably justified in a free and democratic society based on ‘human dignity, equality and freedom’. Decisions by public authorities to limit Charter rights require substantial evidential backing to be justifiable and cannot be based upon assumptions, opinions, operational imperatives or current practices; 4.

Melbourne Activist Legal Support will be fielding teams of trained, independent Legal Observers in the CBD at protest events during October to record, monitor and report upon actions of Victoria Police members according to their responsibilities under the Charter, the International Covenant of Civil & Political Rights (ICCPR) the Victoria Police Manual, use of force guidelines and other human rights considerations and jurisprudence;

We remind Victoria Police of the recommendations made regarding the policing of public protest events and reiterate our request that they be incorporated into operation orders and the VPM. [Statement of Concern: The Policing of Extinction Rebellion]

Responses or further inquiries regarding this open letter can be made to melbactivistlegal@gmail.com

About Melbourne Activist Legal Support

Melbourne Activist Legal Support (MALS) is an independent volunteer group of lawyers, human rights advocates and, law students and para-legals. MALS trains and fields Legal Observer Teams at protest events, monitors and reports on public order policing, provides training and advice to activist groups on legal support structures and develops and distributes legal resources for protest movements. MALS works in conjunction with law firms, community legal centres and a range of local, national and international human rights agencies. We stand up for civil & political rights.

To support our work please make a small donation at:

Endnotes:

1. Despite a lack of Australian case law, courts in Europe have repeatedly made clear, direct action protests, including lockons, occupations of land and other activities which are capable of being deliberately disruptive to others, fall within the scope of Articles 10 and 11 in the European Convention of Human Rights (ECHR). In
Hashman and Harrup v United Kingdom (1999) 30 EHRR 241 the court stated:
“It is true that the protest took the form of physically impeding the activities
of which the applicants disapproved, but the Court considers nonetheless
that they constituted expressions of opinion within the meaning of Article
10… The measures taken against the applicants were, therefore,
interferences with their right to freedom of expression.” (at [28])
This was confirmed in the United Kingdom in R v Roberts & Others [2018] EWCA Crim 2739 which concerned the deliberate blocking of a major road for a period of 3
days. The Court of Appeal stated: “there is no doubt that direct action protests
5 App 76900/01, 29 June 2006 fall within the scope of articles 10 and 11…“ (at [39]).

2. In considering the need for tolerance of disruptive protest (whether intentional or
collateral) the words of Laws LJ in Tabernacle v Secretary of State for Defence
[2009] EWCA Civ 23 are insightful:
“Rights worth having are unruly things. Demonstrations and protests are
liable to be a nuisance. They are liable to be inconvenient and tiresome, or
at least perceived as such by others who are out of sympathy with them.”
(at [43]).

3. Strasbourg case law which emphasises that a protester does not lose the right to assemble/protest peacefully unless they themselves are violent:
“an individual does not cease to enjoy the right to peaceful assembly as a
result of sporadic violence or other punishable acts committed by others in
the course of the demonstration if the individual remains peaceful in his or
her own intentions or behaviour” (Ziliberberg v Moldova, App no 61821/00 Admissibility decision of 4 May 2004).

Also relevant is Moos & Anor, R (on the application of) v Police of the Metropolis [2011] EWHC 957 (Admin) (14 April 2011) discussed at: https://www.hrlc.org.au/human-rights-case-summaries/moos-anor-r-on-the-application-of-v-police-of-the-metropolis-2011-ewhc-957-admin-14-april-2011?rq=peaceful%20assem

4. See http://www.judicialcollege.vic.edu.au/eManuals/CHRBB/57276.htm

STATEMENT OF CONCERN: The Policing of ‘Extinction Rebellion’

Princess Bridge Blockade and dance protest event Saturday 14th September 2019, Melbourne, Australia

Please Note: A response by Victoria Police to the Statement of Concern is included below.

On Saturday 14th September 2019 Melbourne Activist Legal Support (MALS) fielded a team of eight (8) trained Legal Observers at the ‘Princes Bridge Block & Dance’ protest event that took place on St Kilda Road between the Flinders Street intersection and the Victorian Arts Centre precinct.

The protest was organised by sixteen local chapters of an international climate movement, Extinction Rebellion. The widely promoted event was billed as an explicitly nonviolent “powerful, fun and peaceful disruption”.[i] The protest was originally intended to go until 21:00 that evening.[ii]

Legal Observers worked in pairs and were interspersed across the protest site from 11:30 until 15:00, monitoring and recording observed police manoeuvres, conduct and interactions with protesters. The team observed several hundred police working in different Public Order Response Team (PORT) units, arrest teams, the Mounted Branch, plain clothes police prosecutors, the Evidence Gathering Team and witnessed up to forty-four (44) arrests by police.

Over that time the legal observers team noted several areas of concern as described below. Six recommendations to Victoria Police stemming from these observations are included at the end.

A downloadable copy of this Statement is available here (PDF).

1. The police cordon prevented hundreds of supporters from joining the protest thereby limiting the right to peaceful assembly.

From approximately 12:15 police began placing blue and white police tape across the road at the both the north (CBD) end and the south (Arts Centre) end of the protest area. This tape, combined with lines of police along and around the area affectively created a ‘protest zone’ on the Princess Bridge. Police started soon after (from 12:27 onwards) police began preventing people entering or moving through this area including the footpaths on either side of the bridge. By 12:30 the area including footpaths was entirely blocked by police cordons. People were directed to use other bridges to get to the opposite side of the Yarra River.

Importantly, this cordon was established and people actively prevented from accessing the protest prior to any warning of unlawful activity being provided by police.

Figure 2-3: Police establishing a cordon to restrict access to the peaceful assembly. [Photos by Legal Observers]

Reasons provided to Legal Observers and the public by individual police members as to why they were preventing access varied but many cited ‘public safety’ or ‘operational safety’ whilst numerous police members failed to provide any reason for restricting people’s right to attend the protest event.  By 13:00 several hundred people were surrounding the police cordon area at different points with many verbally expressing a desire to join the protest [see Figure 6]. Some protesters who had left the areas to use nearby facilities were not permitted back to the assembled protest. Legal observers witnessed several people attempting to enter or remonstrating with police to be able to enter and join the protest assembled on the bridge. Numerous people also expressed concern on social media (Facebook / Twitter) about not being able to join the protest as they had intended to do.

The right to peaceful assembly is protected at international law. In Victoria, the Charter of Human Rights and Responsibilities Act 2006 (Vic) ss15 and 16;[iii] expressly protects and promotes the rights to assembly and expression. Police cannot place restrictions to arbitrarily and discriminatorily intervene in protest.[iv]

According to the Victoria Police Manual (VPM):

All police actions that limit another person’s human rights must be:

– lawful

– necessary, reasonable and proportionate, and

– in compliance with the Charter of Human Rights and Responsibilities Act 2006.

Where applied, any time, place or manner restrictions on protest must be in good faith, in accordance with law, and conform to the principle of necessary and proportionate limitation.

Figures 4-5: Police cordons established that prevented access to protest area. Note that no threat to safety was present. [Photos by Legal Observers]

‘Breach of the Peace” powers, often cited by police in these circumstances to move on members of the public, require imminent threat of violence or property damage to come into effect and are far too ill-defined to provide justification for a limitation such as this.

The United Nations Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association has stated that government action restricting protest need to be specific; they cannot be made in the abstract “or by indicating general, unspecified risks, but must be made in an individualized fashion, applied in the particular case or with a specific justification.”[v]

Melbourne Activist Legal Supports asserts that the police cordon established by Victoria Police around this protest from 12:15 until 15:00, unjustifiably limited people’s right to assemble together peacefully in order to protest. We contend that this limitation on the right to peaceful assembly was without lawful basis or rationale on the grounds of safety or public order. Despite a degree of ‘disruption’ caused by the protest event, this disruption was time limited and no more significant in affect than other large rallies and assemblies held regularly in the Melbourne CBD. There was no threat to public safety present or expressed.

It is the view of MALS that the police cordon was solely an operational tactic by police that allowed them to control the protest, limit its scale and therefore to more easily facilitate the affecting of arrests. This operational reason does not form a reasonable justification for the limitation of such an important right under Section 7 of the Victorian Charter.[vi]

Figure 6: Crowds of people being unable to join the peaceful assembly [Photo by Legal Observer]

2. Media representatives, journalists and camera operators were directed by police to leave the cordon ‘protest area’ from 13:00. This restriction on media ability to film, interview and cover the protest event was without a clear lawful basis.

Legal observers first noted police directing media to leave at 13.04 when Channel Nine news crew was directed to leave.   Other journalists and camera operators were directed to move to the other side of the police tape or cordon systematically over the next 15 minutes.

Police members provided various reasons when questioned by media personnel about why they were being directed to leave, citing ‘safety’ ‘operational safety’ or ‘police operations’. Legal Observers did not record any police providing a lawful reason or citing a legislative power for this action. Police have limited powers to move-on or direct a person to leave an area, particularly a protest or picket. It is not clear whether police were exercising powers under Section 6(1) of the Summary Offences Act 1966 or seeking to apply common law ‘breach of the peace’ powers. In either case is doubtful whether the criteria for the use of such powers would have been met in these circumstances.[vii]

It is an important principle that journalists should be allowed to carry out their duties reporting on a matter of public interest. Although safety was the most cited reason provided by police, media are well versed in covering arrest situations from a distance that does not hinder or endanger police or protesters. The restriction applied at this protest prevented interviews, footage and coverage of the protest being obtained and appeared to be without a clear lawful basis.

 

3. Obstruction of Legal Observers

Although police permitted some Legal Observers to remain within the cordoned ‘protest area’, at 12:47 several legal observers were directed by police to leave the cordoned area. Importantly, this direction severely limited the ability of legal observers to monitor arrest procedures and the use of force when carrying out an arrest. From the distance legal observers were not able to ascertain whether levels of force consistent with guidelines and lawful powers were being used.

Under the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights Defenders, Legal Observers have a right to fulfill their role unhindered and without obstruction. [viii]

Figure 7: Although some Legal Observers were permitted to remain in the cordoned area after negotiation, several LOs were directed to leave. [Photo, MALS]

 

4. Use of Mounted Branch at a peaceful protest

The Victoria Police mounted branch, (police horses) were present at this protest event, forming lines of police horse around the main protest group at the north and south end of the police cordon.

As we have stated previously the deployment of police horses for such public protest events is unwarranted an unnecessarily intimidating.

The legal observer team could see no operational reason for the Mounted Branch being deployed given the number of police present, the nature of the protest and presence of elderly, disabled and very young people. Any use of horses in public environments and amidst large crowds is by its nature extremely hazardous, due to the risk of uncontrolled and potentially fatal use of force. We reiterate our assertion that police horses should be prohibited from deployment in all crowd control applications.

Figure 8-9: Victoria Police Mounted Branch deployed when no operational reason evident. [Photo by Legal Observers]

 

5. Use of handcuffs and zip-ties when carrying out arrests

Legal observers noted multiple uses of metal handcuffs and plastic zip-ties being used as constraints during several arrests. Handcuffs were not used on all arrestees.

The use of handcuffs or similar restraints on a non-compliant person is considered a use of force and should only be used under particular conditions. In this circumstance there were no threats that warranted restraints being used.

Figure 10: Policing using a compliance hold unnecessarily whilst removing zip-ties from an arrestee [Photo by Legal Observer]

Handcuffs can cause ligament, arm or shoulder injuries, circulatory problems and severe bruising, particularly when people are being carried or moved by police.   One person arrested at this protest reported cuts on arms received during their arrest.   Anther protester reported that he was told by police that he was “resisting arrest” when he was only trying to stand up from a sitting position. Numerous people reported that they considered the use of restraints entirely unnecessary, as they had no intention of resisting the arrest process.

By taking a person into custody, police impact a person’s rights and freedoms under the Charter of Human Rights and Responsibilities Act 2006. “Any use of force must be justified and only to the level required to reasonably effect arrest or removal of persons.” – (VPMG Crowd Control)

In the circumstances observed at this protest event we do not consider the use of handcuffs and zip ties to be justified. We assert that hand cuffs or zip ties should not be used for non-resisting arrestees and not be used in circumstance where people are being carried or moved after choosing not to cooperate with their arrest.

 

6. The carrying of long side handled batons and capsicum (OC) spray

Legal Observers noted multiple police members carrying long side-handled batons and holstered capsicum (OC) spray canisters at this protest event. Legal observer noted one police member carrying OC spray in an unclipped holster (photo available).

As required by VPMP Operational safety and equipment, the Police Forward Commander must give careful consideration to the type of operational safety or other protective equipment that will be carried or worn by members at planned public order operations. “The level of equipment carried or worn should be commensurate to the risk likely to be encountered.”

Figure 11: Long side-handled batons can only be used when a police member is facing a severe threat [Photo by Legal Observer]

The legal observer team asserts that the carrying of long batons and OC spray at this protest event was unwarranted given the risks likely to be encountered. The open deployment of police weaponry is always intimidating and can be perceived as threatening to the public. This threat and intimidation can be, in affect, a limitation upon the rights of peaceful assembly and association if people do not fee safe to come to or remain at a protest.

 

 

Other Observations

The legal observer team noted several warnings being provided by police by megaphone at different times and in different locations and that police provided an individual warning and an opportunity for people to leave the area prior to each arrest.

Legal observers also noted that arrest teams of six or more police members were used to affect each arrest. This provided enough members to carry those people who chose not to cooperate with the arrest procedure and ‘go limp’ relatively safely.  Aside from those issues referred to above this meant that people were not dragged or put in danger of injury by being carried by inadequate numbers of police.

 

Recommendations:

1. Victoria Police consult with bodies such as the Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission (VEOHRC) to review its VPMP Police attendance at events and incidents, operational planning and operation orders in relation to all large civil disobedience protest events in order to ensure that the right to peaceful assembly and association is fully respected and not limited by police cordons and operational tactics that contain or restrict access to protests areas;

2. Victoria Police specifically note the role of civilian Legal and Human Rights Observers within its Crowd Control VPMG and for Forward Commanders to brief operational members of the requirement to ensure the safety and access of Legal Observers who may be present at subsequent protest events;

3. Victoria Police specifically note the role of media representatives and camera operators within its Crowd Control VPMG and for Forward Commanders to brief operational members of the requirement to ensure the safety and access of media who may be present at subsequent protest events;

4. The Victoria Police update the Use of Force and the Operational Safety and Tactics Training (OSTT) VPMG and associated OST training to specifically prohibit the use of handcuffs or other restraints in protest situations when a person is ‘passively resisting’ or ‘going limp’ and ensure that they not used in circumstances where the person is being carried;

5. Victoria Police ensure that Operation Orders contain risk assessments that acknowledge and incorporate the risk of limiting Victorian Charter rights through the open and visible deployment of police weaponry, police horses and intrusive surveillance by drone or Evidence Gathering Teams.

Policy Rules contained in the Victorian Police Manual (VPM) cited above are mandatory and provide the minimum standards that employees must apply. Non-compliance with or a departure from a Policy Rule may be subject to management or disciplinary action.

This Statement of Concern is a public document and is provided to media, Victoria Police Professional Standards Command (PSC), Independent Broad-based Anti-corruption Commission (IBAC), the Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission (VEOHRC), Government ministers, Members of Parliament and other agencies upon request.

A downloadable copy of this Statement is available here (PDF).

For inquiries regarding this statement please contact: melbactivistlegal@gmail.com

About Melbourne Activist Legal Support

Melbourne Activist Legal Support (MALS) is an independent volunteer group of lawyers, human rights advocates and, law students and para-legals. MALS trains and fields Legal Observer Teams at protest events, monitors and reports on public order policing, provides training and advice to activist groups on legal support structures and develops and distributes legal resources for protest movements. MALS works in conjunction with law firms, community legal centres and a range of local, national and international human rights agencies. We stand up for civil & political rights.


Response by Victoria Police to Statement of Concern:

Received 3rd October 2019

Victoria Police functions include: preserving the peace, protecting life and property, preventing the commission of offences, detecting and apprehending offenders and helping those in need of assistance. These functions reflect the long standing role of police in our community in protecting the human rights of all people and to only limit the rights of individual people by the least restrictive means reasonably necessary in the delivery of policing services to the whole community.

The Victorian Charter of Human Rights outlines the human rights and responsibilities possessed of every person in Victoria. These include, within the context of public protest and demonstrations, the right to:

  • Recognition and equality before the law (and particularly to be treated with fairness and respect and in a non-discriminatory way)
  • Freedom of movement
  • Freedom of expression, unless this expression harms the rights and reputations of other people
  • Peaceful assembly and freedom of association
  • Be protected from having property taken, unless the law says it can be taken

The Charter also makes it clear in its preamble that “human rights come with responsibilities and must be exercised in a way that respects the human rights of others”. This principle applies equally to police in the exercise of their discretion, as much as it does to any person who may conduct themselves in a way which might affect the human rights of other people.

Victoria Police plays an important role in balancing the rights of all people in the Victorian community, and ensuring the safety and public utility of all public spaces including the Melbourne CBD.

The Melbourne CBD is the location of many protests, demonstrations and public assemblies throughout any given year, and Victoria Police recognises the importance of facilitating peaceful protests and gatherings as an important part of the democratic fabric that holds our community together.

In the context of public protest, Victoria Police officers are required to balance the rights of people to go about their lawful business without being adversely impacted by the unlawful conduct of other people. This ultimately reflects what it means to live in community.

As the Assistant Commissioner North West Metropolitan Region, I am responsible for balancing the rights of individuals to peacefully gather and protest in the Melbourne CBD alongside the rights of all other people in the CBD to go about their lawful business unhindered by the activity of others.

An important element of getting this balance right is ensuring all Victoria Police members understand their legal obligations to protect and promote the human rights of all people as protected in the Charter. I am taking this opportunity to outline how Victoria Police does this, partially in response to some public comments made by individuals who were part of a recent protest in the Melbourne CBD criticising the actions of Victoria Police, to explain to them and to the broader community why we work in the manner that we do.

It is important to recognise that all people have the right to peacefully assemble and protest under the Charter, but these rights are not unlimited and come with responsibilities too on the part of protestors. Also, my members in North West Metro have to lawfully limit the human rights of people in their roles at times, and I fully support them to do this.

Both International Human Rights Law and Victorian Law protects the right to peaceful protest, and Victoria Police recognises that this includes some protest forms that inconvenience the public utility that would otherwise be enjoyed by other people in the community. The protest on September 14 is no exception to this, and Victoria Police allowed individuals to protest on the Princes Bridge in a manner that impeded traffic, trams and pedestrians in order that protestors could convey their political messages in a peaceful way.

On September 14, my operational commanders in charge of policing this protest, having identified risks:

  • public safety
  • of breaches of the peace
  • the commission of other offences, and
  • the rights of other citizens not involved in the protest being unlawfully infringed.

They then made a lawful decision to limit the rights of protestors by dispersing protestors after the protest had been underway for some time. The commentators who have criticised this decision of police note that they had intended that the protest ‘go on until 21:00 that evening’. The operational decision of Victoria Police was that this would disproportionately impact the rights of others and the movement of traffic through the Melbourne CBD, and consequently did not allow this to occur.

To be clear, the policing tactics and response on 14 September 2019 were undertaken to achieve the following ends:

  • to protect public safety (the safety of people not involved in the protest, as well as those who were participating in the protest)
  • to prevent possible breaches of the peace and the commission of other offences, and
  • to ensure the rights of people not involved in the protest were not unlawfully infringed.

All Victorians can expect that Victoria Police will continue to apply this approach in its policing of future planned and unplanned demonstrations in the Melbourne CBD and I would hope that any human rights lawyers and human rights monitors operating in this space would likewise have regard for the rights of all people and consider that with rights come responsibilities.

I fully support my staff in their decisions in this protest, and in the exemplary work they do in policing the many protests that occur throughout the Melbourne CBD.

Assistant Commissioner Luke Cornelius APM, Northwest Metropolitan Region, Victoria Police

3/10/2019

 

 

 

 


Endnotes to SoC:

[i] ‘Melbourne: Princess Bridge Block and Dance’ Facebook event. https://www.facebook.com/events/346436272910163/

[ii] Event description and sign up form https://www.actionnetwork.org/forms/september-14-dancing-on-bridge/

[iii] https://humanrights.vgso.vic.gov.au/charter-guide/charter-rights-by-section/section-16-peaceful-assembly-and-freedom-association

[iv] Lashmankin and Others v. Russia (European Court of Human Rights, Third Section, Applications nos. 57818/09 and 14 others, 7February 2017).

[v] Maina Kiai, FOAA Online!: The Right to Freedom of Peaceful Assembly (April 2017) <http://freeassembly.net/wp-content/uploads/2017/09/FOAA-Online-The-Rightto-Freedom-of-Peaceful-Assembly.pdf&gt;, 20.

[vi] https://humanrights.vgso.vic.gov.au/charter-guide/charter-rights-by-section/section-15-freedom-expression/reasonable-limits

[vii] Police have an ill-defined ‘power’ to direct a person believed to be breaching or likely to breach the peace to leave a particular location. Breach of the peace is any disturbance of public order involving the threat of violence or harm to property.

“This power extends to directing people to move on, or to refuse them entry into an area if such direction is reasonable to prevent an anticipated breach of the peace. The Summary Offences Act provides specific powers to issue a direction to move on if the member or PSO suspects on reasonable grounds that the person is breaching the peace or likely to breach the peace endanger the safety of any other person or behave in a manner likely to cause injury.” (Victoria Police Manual VPM – Procedures and Guidelines – Breach of the Peace. January 2019)

[viii] Declaration on Human Rights Defenders <https://www.ohchr.org/en/issues/srhrdefenders/pages/declaration.aspx&gt;

STATEMENT OF CONCERN: Policing of Invasion Day March 2019

On Saturday 26 January 2019 Melbourne Activist Legal Support (MALS) fielded a team of ten (10) trained Legal Observers at the Invasion Day march that took place in Melbourne’s Central Business District.  The march, which was organised by the group Warriors of Aboriginal Resistance, began with speakers at Victoria’s Parliament House on Spring Street, proceeded down Bourke St, turning south down Swanston Street and culminating at the intersection of Swanston and Flinders Streets out side Flinders Street Station.

Legal Observers monitored and recorded interactions between Victoria Police and protesters throughout the four hour event.

Areas of Concern:

We are concerned about several aspects of the policing of the event that in some instances pose unjustified limitations of rights within the Victorian Charter of Human Rights & Responsibilities Act (2006) and the implied freedom of political communication in the Constitution.

High-level of policing

  • Legal Observers noted the high level of police presence for a peaceful event, namely the deployment of a brawler van and other public order vehicles, the use of mounted police, the Public Order Response Team (PORT), a Critical Incident Response Team (CIRT), and an Evidence Gathering Team that was filming attendees throughout the event. We stress that these annual Invasion Day rallies and marches have been  solemn, entirely peaceful and well-organised commemorative events involving tens of thousands of people, including families, children and elderly people. This highly visible level of policing understandably causes anxiety among attendees and may dissuade people from attending and/or bringing their children to the event in future. It also creates the impression among onlookers and the general public that the attendees pose a risk and must be policed. As we have stated previously, we believe that over-policing such as displayed at this event constitutes a form of discrimination.

Prevention of public address system

  • Police refused to allow a vehicle with a small public address (PA) system) to accompany the march to its ending point at the corner of Swanston and Flinders Streets.  No clear reason for this restriction was provided to organisers. The same vehicle was utlised in the 2018 march safely and effectively with no problems reported by police.  A police member involved in negotiations with the event organisors was reported to have stated that the command not to allow the PA vehicle to proceed this year came from an Assistant Commissioner.  Organisor attempts to compromise and have the vehicle meet the march at its end point were also prevented by police.  This restriction on the peaceful assembly effectively removed the ability for march organisers to communicate important messages to the many thousands of attendees and therefore increased risk to attendees.   Organisers of the march were reduced to using small megaphones to direct, provide instructions and communicate with attendees. These could not be heard by the vast majority of the many thousand people who occupied several city blocks at any one time.  We believe this limitation by Victoria Police to be unjustified, dangerous and a form of suppression of political communication.

11:46 am  Police speaking to driver of one of two PA vehicles which were prevented from accompanying the march. Photo: MALS.

Temporary restriction of march

  • At 11:30am, minutes after the march had begun and moved forward for one block, a line of standing police blocked the march proceeding down Bourke Street. This caused a delay for approximately ten minutes and created a range of potential issues for the march including increasing the risk of a crowd crush as thousands of people moved forward, and health impacts of keeping people longer in the midday sun. It is not clear why the decision to prevent the march was made by police at this point however it occurred at the time when negotiations about the PA vehicle were underway.   In this scenario, police ought to have deferred to the well-organised and easily identifiable rally marshals to allow the march to proceed or pause as required for cohesion.

    Police forming a physical barrier to prevent march continuing down Swanston St. (Photo: Facebook)

    11:34am Police forming a physical barrier to prevent march continuing down Swanston St. Photo: MALS

     

  • It was observed by and reported to Legal Observers that on numerous occasions, police presence intimidated attendees by positioning themselves, horses or large police vehicles in very close proximity to attendees, often following, or parking very close to people.  Police should be aware of the impact of their presence upon members of the public. We recommend that police maintain safe and reasonable distances from members of the public during public events.

11:38am Brawler van positioned facing attendees at a distance of approximately five metres Photo: MALS

11:38am A large police brawler van and large buses followed the march at often close proximity. Photo: MALS

Use of Mounted Unit

  • The deployment of the Police Mounted Unit at the front of the march was unnecessary, and as noted above, signaled to the public that the march posed a public threat. The presence of police horses in crowd situations pose a significant risk of injury especially given the size of the crowd, the presence of children, prams, people with disability access requirements and the inability of people to freely move out of the horses way if they are maneuvered close to crowds. While they were not utilised to control crowds, their presence remains unnecessarily intimidating and increases the risk of severe injury to attendees. We remind readers that the past six Invasion Day marches have proceeded entirely peacefully and without any incident that would warrant the use of horses.

11:55am Police Mounted Unit at the front of march down Bourke Street. This is what the public saw as the march approached. Photo: MALS

Open carriage of weaponry

  • Legal observers noted police members openly carrying paramilitary-style equipment such as flash/noise distraction devices designed to shock and disperse crowds, and possibly the newly acquired stinger grenades. As we have asserted previously, the open and visible deployment of repression technology at peaceful events serves no safety or operational purpose aside from intimidation. For example, one police officer was observed casually carrying a container of OC spray outside a vehicle for no operational purpose.

11:52am Police Evidence Gathering Team were observed constantly videoing attendees throughout the event.  Photo MALS

ID Badges

  • Some Victoria Police were observed without official ID badges on display. We continue to stress, as we have in past years, that by their own regulations, VicPol members in uniform are required to wear current issue name tags that specify first name or initial/s, surname and rank (Victoria Police Manual, Uniform and Appearance Standards, Oct 2016).

General observations

We note that no rally attendees were arrested, but observed two far-right supporters being arrested and removed from the area directly in front of the Flinders Street Station clocks (1.20pm).

Legal Observers also noted numerous incidents of police speaking with, deterring or preventing far-right, nationalist or patriot identified individuals or small groups from approaching the march throughout the day.  While we note that Victoria Police were cognizant of the risk that far-right ‘patriot’ groups or individuals would attempt to counter-protest or antagonise the march, MALS does not believe this accounts for or justifies the level of over-policing, tactics, and open carrying of weaponry witnessed.

END

This Statement is a public document and is provided to media, Victoria Police Professional Standards Command, the Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission (VEOHRC), and other agencies upon request.

For inquiries please contact: melbactivistlegal@gmail.com

https://melbourneactivistlegalsupport.org/

EVENT REPORT: 66 Records Label Launch, Collingwood

Published: 4 September 2018

Available for download here (PDF)

On Saturday 1st of September, to the morning of Sunday the 2nd, September, 2018 Melbourne Activist Legal Support (MALS) fielded a team of nine trained Legal Observers at the 66 Records Label launch that took place at the Gasometer Hotel near the intersection of Alexander Parade with Smith Street, in Collingwood, Victoria.

Legal Observers were present in three shifts from 9.00pm on Saturday 1st until 4.00am on Sunday 2nd September. The team was present upon request by the event organisers after Victoria Police informed the event organisers that police would be attending the event.

The presence of independent Legal Observers at events which receive particular policing attention and media scrutiny is critically important. Having trained independent witnesses can be vital for providing objective evidence and accounts after the fact for public and legal purposes. Legal Observer event reports or Statements of Concern are often utilised by journalists, human rights bodies, police complaints departments and legal teams to ascertain contemporaneous evidence and objective data.

Organisors and legal bodies are acutely aware that any events and incidents involving young people of perceived African background are highlighted and subsequent media coverage can distort public perceptions and increase discriminatory and harmful associations. These associations are commonly utilised for political purposes by commentators including politicians. It is often the case that media depictions or characterisations of an event can vary significantly from actual observed reports.

It is important to note that journalists and commentators were not present on the night and did not have contemporaneous eyewitness accounts of events as they unfolded. Having trained and independent observers at events such as these is something we would encourage under these circumstances.

MALS works closely with a range of human rights and legal bodies including community legal centres and teams are often made up of legally trained people, laws students and solicitors who volunteer their time for such events.   All Legal Observers work with MALS in a volunteer capacity.  Observers do not interfere with or hinder police work. Legal Observers closely observe the actions of police, private security and other parties in their interactions with members of the public, provide basic legal information to members of the public about their rights and responsibilities. Legal observers help ensure police and private security agents act according to their lawful powers and do not infringement upon the civil and legal rights of members of the public.

Legal Observers are identified by high-visibility vests with Legal Observer printed across the back and front.

 

Direct Observations

The Legal Observer Team on the night reported that the event was well organised, and the attendees were peaceful up until approximately 2.20am on the Sunday just prior to when the event was due to finish.

Police patrols visited or conducted walk-throughs in the venue eight times over the night. Police were polite and communications with venue staff and legal observers were cordial during each patrol. There was no indications that any altercations would break out during each of these patrols.

The final police patrol was present just outside the venue when the initial fight broke out inside.

At approximately 2.20am Sunday morning arguments and physical fights broke out amongst some event attendees. These fights began inside the venue and later broke out outside as people were exciting the venue.

The large crowd of approximately 200 people were outside the venue due to the event finishing and them being ushered outside. By 2.40am all attendees had left the venue. It is important to note that only a proportion of this crowd were actively involved in fighting. Others were trying to calm the situation or were in the process of leaving the area.

At 2:25 several PORT (Public Order Response Team) had arrived on site and began cordoning off the lanes to Alexander Parade.

At 2.41am Observers noted eight police vehicles stationed along Alexander Parade and Smith Street. By 2.45am an unmarked police 4WD and a police truck had arrived on site. And a line of 14 police were observed moving south down Smith Street.

Observers were not present at the location at the corner of Emma and Maton Streets when a car collided with the event attendees at approximately 2.45am but were present soon after. Three police members immediately attended to the injured person.

Police cordoned off this area as police and paramedics attended to the injured person. The remaining crowd dispersed over the next 60 minutes.

By 3:31am only 10 people remained in the area who identified themselves as either friends or family of the injured person.

Observers remained on site until approximately 4.00am.

Commentary

MALS asserts, based upon our observations, that policing was at appropriate levels throughout the night of the event with regular policing patrols – commensurate with an event of that nature and size. Observers notes that police responded quickly to the incidents outside the venue and more police members and resources, including the Public Order Response Team were in attendance within minutes.

Based upon our observations at the event, the calls by some parties for more police resources, powers or numbers after this event are duplicitous.

It is untrue, as some media outlets have claimed, that “200 people were involved in the brawling. Whilst a minority of the crowd were involved in sudden physical assaults, most others were attempting to stop the fights or were moving away from the venue in the process of dispersing from the area.

The Legal Observers did not witness any evidence of ‘gangs’ or ‘gang like behaviours’ at the event. The physical violence witnessed by observers was predominately between young men who were affected by alcohol.

Whilst the media commentary surround the event has been politicised by commentators almost immediately afterwards we wish to highlight some clearly evident factors missing from the public discussion of the event to date.

Alcohol is involved in approximately 60 per cent of all police attendances.[i]

Excessive consumption of alcohol is a major cause of physical and social harm. Victoria Police’s own data indicates that the availability of alcohol, either in concentrated entertainment precincts or liquor outlets acts as a substantial driver of assault and related offences.[ii]

There is a considerable amount of research and data from the health, hospital and justice sectors about alcohol related harms and strategies about reducing it. The association between the violence that occurred at this event and the perceived ethnicity of those involved is not only simplistic and incorrect; it diverts attention away from evidence-based factors and their solutions.

Our thoughts go to the people injured on the night, their friends and family members.

MALS will field legal observer teams at future events upon request if capacity allows.

For further information about Melbourne Activist Legal Support please see https://melbourneactivistlegalsupport.org/

 

 

 

[i] Miller, Peter (A/Prof). 2013, Patron Offending and Intoxication in Night-Time Entertainment Districts (POINTED). NDLERF Monograph Series No.46.National Drug Law Enforcement Research Fund. Canberra

[ii] [PDF]Policing Alcohol Harm in Victoria – Victoria Police

https://www.police.vic.gov.au/retrievemedia.asp?Media_ID=108141

 

#NotWithYou: Why more weapons for Victoria Police is a Very Bad Idea

In a carefully orchestrated public relations launch on Thursday 22 March, Victoria Police revealed it’s armoury of new repressive weaponry.

The Chief Commissioner of Victoria Police, Graham Ashton has expressed concern about how these weapons will be perceived by the public.  “We need the community to be with us on this’’ he said.  Well, we are not and here’s why.

The Operations Response Unit (ORU) received an initial $7.6 million with an ongoing ($35 million) over five years to “improve the management of large scale or high-risk public order incidents.”  The Victorian government, as part of its inappropriately named ‘Public Safety Package’ announced this funding back in 2016 and now we see what VicPol ended up buying with it.
These new weapons will be used by the Operational Response Unit (ORU) and distributed from a new hi-tech vehicle that will record evidence and can livestream to an offsite command centre. Most of these weapons have already been in use in some form by specialist units such  the Critical Incident Response Team and Special Operations Group and have come out at recent prison protests or hostage scenarios.   However this represents a significant rollout to more ‘regular’ public order police.
The only weapon that is totally new for VicPol is the VKS Pepperball firearm (pictured below). A 175 shot semi-automatic rifle that fires capsicum rounds, blunt force pellets the size of marbles or dye markers to brand people for arrest later.  These pellets can blind, maim and leave permanent injuries depending where they hit the body. (Check out the demo for it here.)   There’s footage of these guns being fired at protesters in Portland Oregan (USA) last year here.
 
The 40-millimetre rubber bullet launcher so proudly displayed by  Superintendent Tim Tully has resulted in significant injuries and fatalities around the world. Just last year a 25 year old protester was killed by a rubber bullet in Paraguay.
Stinger grenades  – (pictured below) is a pain compliance, distraction and disorientation device for ‘crowd management’, it may be hand thrown or launched in the general direction of the crowd and may be deployed for ground bursts or aerial bursts at the discretion of the operator  – It explodes releasing nine 32-calibre rubber pellets to waist height with a range of five metres.
The Flash/noise distraction grenades designed to shock and disperse crowds are routinely being used in Israel/Palestine and other conflict zones and have maimed children, can burst ear drums and  generate dangerous fear and panic in crowds.
In terms of capsicum canisters, that detonate to release a cloud of capsicum, deaths can occur if people and gas gets trapped in a confined area such as in prison cells.

Injuries from Less Lethal Weapons:  – Theodore C. Chan, MD, FACEP, Professor of Clinical Medicine, University of California San Diego Medical Center.

Instead of investing in communities these new expensive weapons increase the likelihood of violence against communities that are not valued in Victoria, t

A ‘Stinger Grenade’ mentioned above

he incarcerated and the marginalised. They will be used against teenagers at parties, against frustrated prisoners, and against citizens standing up against injustices that the government ignores.

Having observed and documented crowd control policing over the past seven years, Melbourne Activist Legal Support can safely say Victoria Police already deploy riot equipment unnecessarily, inappropriately, dangerously and in ways that infringe upon human rights. We have witnessed OC Spray being used indiscriminately, and against police’s own regulations –  on multiple occasions.
Victoria Police have stated that the main purpose for deploying these weapons is to “enhance the safety of community members and our members”. No  – these are weapons will be used against Victorian citizens.  Independent studies show that riot gear has a destabilising effect at public order events, tending to aggravate and escalate the situation and making it far more dangerous for both community and police.  Riot policing generates fear, anger, distrust and disorder.
At an event referred to during the media launch, the Milo Yiannopoulos protests in Flemington in December 2017, MALS Legal Observers witnessed police ignore hours of vitriolic racial and religious abuse of local residents by white nationalist groups, then we saw intensely provocative riot formations deployed against the very people who had experienced the abuse. Many local residents felt they they were under attack by police.
“One man who has lived at the housing estate for 15 years said he had been standing with his arms linked with other residents in a peaceful stand against the right-wing protesters who were taunting them, when they were doused with pepper-spray by police wielding batons.” –The Age 13 December 2017

Photo: Jason South

Far from justifying the purchase of these weapons, the policing in Flemington that night proved that riot policing makes things worst, and that policing in Victoria is already more intensively focused upon marginalized and ‘less-valued’ communities.
Whenever weapons like this are brought out at protests, kids parties (yes, teenage parties the spill out into the street) or during prison protests, they are routinely misused.
The almost daily misuse of OC spray by Victoria Police is a case in point.  These new weapons make the abuse of civil, political and human rights in Victoria more likely and more severe.  Under human rights law, any restrictions on protest, and any use of force, must be for a legitimate purpose and be proportionate to that aim.  We know from experience that these new weapons will be used without a justifiable purpose, against people posing no threat to police, and in disproportionate ways.

Police spraying toward a Legal Observer and toward no-one who was threatening him – in contravention of Vicpol’s regulations of use. – Melbourne, June 2017

This million dollar purchase by the Victorian government demonstrates the reach of the ever-growing Global Non-Lethal Weapons Market – a multi-billion dollar export industry in repressive technology that fuels conflicts, human rights atrocities and state repression around the world.  Law enforcement departments everywhere have been sucked in by the slick marketing of this ‘less-than-lethal’ arms industry.  Much of the repressive tech that VicPol purchases is never actually deployed (they have LRAD sound cannons for instance but never used them). Whilst civil and political unrest is very profitable for the companies driving this market, it costs taxpayers millions that could be otherwise spent on people and communities.

If the safety of the Victorian community is indeed the highest priority for Victoria Police – it should look to building trust and accountability.  If the Victorian Government is serious about community safety then investing in community resources, infrastructure and support would be far more effective and perhaps a tad less likely to infringe upon Victoria’s own Charter of Human Rights and Responsibilities.
Police misconduct, police abuse of power, police pointing guns into crowds and dressed up like robo-cops all serve to destroy trust.  Victoria Police already have strained relationships with many sections of our community, do they really want to distance and dehumanise themselves even further?
The Human Rights Law Centre (HRLC) has reported upon the disturbing trend of state governments passing draconian laws that curb civil and political rights and restricting civil society organisations to advocate.  The actual or threatened use of these sorts of repressive weapons also impinges upon our civil and political rights. If people stay away from a protest out of fear of police then their right to peaceful assembly is being restricted.  If people leave a peace assembly if they see police with weapons then their right to peaceful assembly is being restricted.

So what can we do about it?

The actual use of these new weapons is not guaranteed. Their deployment depends upon the context of the protests, the social and political climate and whether or not these weapons would be seen by media and the wider community as ‘acceptable’, ‘reasonable’ or ‘appropriate’ under the circumstances.
By ‘revealing’ these weapons to sympathetic journalists in such a careful way,  and writing to community organisations and human rights bodies that same day,  Victoria Police were essentially asking for a social license to use them. It is imperative that they are not given this.
If Victoria Police anticipate a public, media and political backlash it will deter use of these weapons.
Likewise, if they perceive, rightly or wrongly, that they may face costly litigation after these weapons are deployed then that may also serve to restrict their use.
The role of legal observers, human rights advocates and activist lawyers will be critical if these weapons are ever deployed against members of the public in Victoria

We are citizens not enemy combatants.  Do not deploy weapons on us.  #NotWithYou


Further background:

This new riot gear is part of the $2 billion Victorian State Government package that includes a massive new training facility for special operations police, a $15 million a ‘state-of-the-art, New York-style’  24/7 Monitoring and Assessment (surveillance) centre in Melbourne’s CBD.
Also included is a $227 million IT data intelligence program run by SAS Institute Australia which will merge databases and allow predictive tracking that will make the Cambridge Analytics revelations seem relatively benign.  Body worn cameras, as well as more than 3100 extra police officers are part of the package.  This is all tied up in the Andrews Government’s ‘Community Safety Statement’ which was developed in the context of an Victoria’s ongoing racialised law & order auctions between the major parties.
See also:

Who’s who in Victoria Police

STATEMENT OF CONCERN: Unlawful use of OC Foam 25/6/2017

 

‘No Pride in Hate’ rally 25 June 2017, Melbourne, Australia

On Sunday the 25th of June 2017 Melbourne Activist Legal Support (MALS) fielded a team of five (5) trained Legal Observers at the ‘No Pride in Hate’ protest that took place between the Carlton Gardens and Melbourne’s Central Business District.

Legal Observers monitored and recorded interactions between Victoria Police and protesters throughout the 3-hour event.

Legal Observers witnessed two (2) incidents of use of OC aerosol foam during the event. After thorough review of video footage and witness statements, MALS has concluded that the use of OC foam in both of these incidents breached Victoria Police’s own use of force guidelines and regulations. (See VPM extract below)

Police, media representative and members of the public are reminded that the police use of force that falls outside police guidelines and regulations is serious and could be determined to constitute unlawful assault.

OC Spray Incident 1

OC Spray was deployed at 11.42 AM at South West corner of the intersection between Victoria Parade and Nicholson Street. Police had rapidly formed a north-south cordon to prevent protesters crossing north over Nicolson Street and clashing with a far-right group who at that stage, were still situated at south-east corner of Carlton Gardens.

A small number of protesters (approx 6) along south of Victoria Parade, can be seen pushing plastic road barriers away from the police line onto Victoria Parade. The police line was situated approx 5 metres east of protesters, in the middle of Victoria Parade. A group of media photographers and a Legal Observer were adjacent between the police line and the small number of protesters pushing the barriers.

At 11.42am one police member (name/number unknown), came out from behind the police line and deployed OC foam, appearing to target one protester who and had their back turned away from that police member and who was pushing a barrier further onto the road. The police member using the foam canister appeared to then spray it indiscriminately in the general direction of the barriers, and then directing it at the group of photographers and then in the direction of the Legal Observer present. The action was well documented with both written and video evidence. (see Figures 1 and 2 below).

The police member then turned and went back through the police line. This member was not identified.

At the time the OC foam was deployed, MALS saw no evidence of violence or serious physical confrontation by protesters directly towards police. Those affected by the OC foam had either their backs turned away from and were moving away from, the police line or were stationary, as were media, photographers and Legal Observer in the area covered by the spray.

Figure 1: OC Incident 1 – Photo showing people with backs turned away from police being sprayed. No threatening behaviour evident prior to spray. Photo by Legal Observer 25 June 2017

 

 

 

 

Figure 2: OC Incident 1 – Spray then directed toward the Legal Observer. Photo by Legal Observer 25 June 2017

 

 

 

MALS asserts the use of OC spray in this circumstance appeared to be an undisciplined and indiscriminate reaction to a loud and fast moving protest situation and was neither necessary nor proportionate to any risk faced by police members at that time. The OC spray did not appear to have served any protective or crowd–control purpose.

OC Spray Incident 2

A second OC spray incident occurred at approximately 1.00 PM at the north side of intersection between Latrobe and Russell streets in Melbourne’s CBD.

The main body of ‘No Pride in Hate’ protesters (approx 150-200) were marching north up Russell Street. Upon reaching the intersection a large contingent of police formed a line to block northward progress across the intersection and instead redirect protesters West down Latrobe Street.

This police manoeuvre appeared to be instigated in order to prevent further contact with the opposing protest group that was returning to the Carlton Gardens via Nicholson Street. At that point in the intersection, “No Pride in Hate’ protesters were surrounded on north, east and south sides by police lines. Police began loudly shouting “move, move” whilst physically pushing protesters in a westerly direction.

Whilst some protesters appeared to have already turned west, others in the group were prevented from moving in the direction by police lines. Others appeared to be refusing to comply with the police direction. Within a few seconds of the loud “move” direction from police, a member [name/number unknown] deployed OC spray from behind the police line directly into and over the large group of protesters.

It appeared to Observers present that the use of OC spray in this instance was a measure to force compliance with a direction to move, rather than a response to violence or serious physical threat to police or bystanders.

Street Medic groups treating those injured by OC spray reported fourteen (14) people severely incapacitated by the OC spray’s effects, and continued to provide treatment at the same intersection for two hours afterwards. Paramedics called to the scene by the Street Medic team arrived approximately one hour after the incident and treated five (5) of those most severely affected.

Approximately eight (8) Public Order Response Team (PORT) police members arrived at scene about 15 minutes after the paramedics, and were observed to instruct any protesters remaining, that were not being directly treated, to vacate the area. Police used physical force to pull some medics and support people away from those being treated.

This disruption to the treatment and care of injured people appeared unnecessary, as those present were not interfering with the paramedics and in most cases were actively assisting with after-care and treatment. By forcibly moving medics and carers away from people being treated this police action added to the distress of those suffering from the OC spray.

 

KEY POINTS:

  • In each of these two circumstances police were dealing with fast moving protest situation and a loud, chanting and certainly noncompliant group of protesters. Despite this, police did not appear to be facing a violence or serious physical confrontation that would warrant such use of force under common law requirements or 462A Crimes Act;

 

  • The use of OC spray appeared to be deployed in order to force compliance or move protesters;

 

  • The use of OC spray in these two circumstances was used contrary to Victoria Police guidelines. OC spray should not be used as a crowd control tool or to force compliance. (See VPMG extract below).

 

  • In both incidents the OC spray affected an array of people in a seemingly indiscriminate manner; either over a large number of people in a crowd or toward third parties such as media photographers or Legal Observers;

 

  • This use of OC spray reflects similar incidents at other Victorian protest events where OC spray has been sprayed directly at people not directly confronting police or third parties such as Street Medics or media. This reoccurrence may indicate a training and policy issue with its use in protest and crowd situations.

 

  • MALS is deeply concerned by the use of OC spray onto members of the media and independent Legal Observers. Under the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights Defenders, Legal Observers have a right to fulfil their role unhindered and without obstruction.

 

  • MALS recommends that Victoria Police specifically note the role of civilian Legal and Human Rights Observers within its Crowd Control VPMG and for Forward Commanders to brief operational members of the requirement to ensure the safety and access of Legal Observers who may be present at subsequent protest events.

 

  • MALS also recommends that Victoria Police specifically note the role of civilian medical and first aid groups within its Crowd Control VPMG and for Forward Commanders to brief operational members of the requirement to ensure the safety and access of civilian first aiders who may be present at subsequent protest events.

 

  • MALS is also aware of issues concerning the treatment and mis-gendering of trans people who were searched by police under the Control of Weapons Act powers. These are the subject of separate complaints.

 

 

Appendix: Victoria Police Manual 2017 – Procedures and Guidelines(VPMG)

Operational safety and equipment

3.2 Use of OC aerosols

  • As stated in VPMP Operational safety and equipment, members must only use force in accordance with legal requirements (e.g. 462A Crimes Act, common law). In keeping with this, members should only use OC aerosols where they believe on reasonable grounds it is necessary and proportionate in situations: – of violence or serious physical confrontation

– where violent or serious physical confrontation is imminent

– where a person is involved in violent or other physical conduct likely to seriously injure themselves or result in suicide

  • Members should not use OC aerosols when a person is only passively resisting e.g. simply hanging limp or refusing to comply with instructions only.

 

 

This Statement is a public document and is provided to media, Victoria Police Professional Standards Command, the Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission (VEOHRC), and other agencies upon request.

For enquiries please contact: melbactivistlegal@gmail.com

  • Facebook/MelbourneActivistLegalSupport
  • Twitter/ActivistLegal

https://melbourneactivistlegalsupport.org/

Roles of the Activist Lawyers Network

Solicitors can play a vital role in protecting the civil, political and human rights of activists seeking positive change. They can help demystify the law and legal processes, provide concrete information and help activists make informed choices about protest action. Importantly, lawyers can reassure people engaged in civil disobedience by their presence, support and advocacy before, during and after a protest action.

Melbourne Activist Legal Support (MALS) and Amnesty International (AI) Victoria are launching a specialist Activist Lawyers Network who are willing to act pro-bono for progressive activists and activist groups.

Roles of the Activist Lawyers Network

The network’s core roles and functions will include:

(Journal photo by Ron Agnir)
Kate Savidan of the ACLU of West Virginia, holds up a pamphlet with legal information and phone numbers for legal counseling at a training session on Wednesday in Shepherdstown.1) Training and Advice for activist groups

MALS often receives requests for legal advice and legal briefings on topics such as police powers, protest rights and common charges to expect. Sometimes this is of a generic nature but often the legal advice needed is specific to a particular type of action or location. Often activist groups will want to know what the legal consequences of an action may be whilst they are at the planning stage. These legal briefings will generally be weeks or days before an action event or as part of a pre-arranged activist training session.

They could be an hour or two long and involve answering questions such as “what will happen to me if I am arrested?”

Related image

Lawyers at Kennedy Airport during the Muslim ban protests. Credit Victor J. Blue

2) Legal Briefings at protests

Solicitors can also be called upon to provide a legal briefing at an actual protest or just before it starts. This is usually a much quicker briefing for people who are just about to engage in some sort of protest action. Usually at this point the action is already planned and people might require some up-to-date legal information about what charges they might expect or what police could do, such as their search powers in a particular area. It will be usually be outdoors and quick.

3) Legal Observer Teams

Solicitors can act as legal observers but you can be called as a witness so you would not be able to represent activists later. But being on the ground with a team of legal observers is a very valuable role. Solicitors can work with the Legal Observers to discuss police tactics, move-on or arrests, assist with police liaison on behalf of the Legal Observer Team or people who have been arrested.

4) On Call Legal advice

For large actions we sometime run a mobile phone legal advice line that activists can call if they have a legal question or if they are arrested. It would involve lawyers being On-Call and being prepared to provide specific phone advice to people who may be in or just released from police custody. It may involve advising people about their rights in custody, to silence, fingerprints and searches as well as bail and bail conditions. It could involve being on an on-call roster with other solicitors.

4) In custody support

Solicitors can also be valuable protests involving mass arrests, to provide on-site legal advice to activists in police custody. This can involve going to the police station, requesting access to those in custody and providing initial legal advice in person. It can also involve advocacy around their treatment in custody, onerous bail conditions or release times. The presence of solicitors at police stations can be a strong protection against mistreatment.

Image result for ACLU legal training

5) Assisting with complaints about police

Activists often need assistance in making formal complaints about police misconduct. This can involve taking statements, collecting evidence including CCTV footage and assisting the activist lodge the complaint with police, IBAC or Victorian Equal Opportunity & Human Rights Commission. Complaints about police use of force can be important to challenge police human rights abuses and help maintain civil and political rights. Torts can arise and referrals to law firms or the Police Accountability Project are important.

6) Representation in court

Lawyers who can take on activists as clients can assist them prepare for court, advise around pleas and possible defenses and provide actual representation in court. Sometimes activists will face charges in a group at the same court and test cases can be arranged.   Solicitors need to be prepared for some activists not to plead guilty but instead seek to use their court appearance to further advance the campaign. Activists may want to attempt creative defenses or legal arguments and many will want to speak for themselves in court and to media before and after.

Increasingly, activists are seeing the court appearance as part of the campaign and lawyers can help devise effective court strategies to do this.

7) Advocacy & Law Reform

From time to time MALS provides submissions, organises forums or advocacy campaigns against particular anti-protest laws or repressive police powers. We may do this in concert or alone but the assistance of solicitors is invaluable in developing and drafting powerful submissions for the protection of civil and political rights.

REQUIREMENTS:

Lawyers will need to have an up-to date practicing certificate for the State of Victoria and will need to be covered by the Professional Indemnity Insurance through their current employer or practice.

ABOUT Melbourne Activist Legal Support

Melbourne Activist Legal Support (MALS) supports activists to defend their own civil and political rights though the provision of training, resources and up to date information regarding the rights to protest at law in the State of Victoria.

MALS can provide legal direct legal support at major demonstrations, monitoring police engagement with protesters through the deployment of legal observer teams if an when capacity allows.

We can provide legal information or training and help coordinate legal support in conjunction with law firms and community legal centres.

About the Anti-Mask (Public Order) Laws

benny zable

Since our article Anti-Mask Laws proposed in Victoria, was published the Crimes Amendment (Public Order) Bill 2017 has been passed in the Victorian Legislative Assembly and is now law in Victoria.

This article has been updated on 21 June 2018.


PLEASE NOTE: Masks are NOT be banned at all protest events – but ONLY those held in a area that police have declared a ‘designated area’.  (See below for more detail.)


The CRIMES AMENDMENT (PUBLIC ORDER) BILL 2017 was introduced into parliament by the Victorian Attorney General, Martin Pakula to allow “new measures to prevent serious disturbances of public order, including outbreaks of violence at protests, demonstrations and other public events.”

The intense media and public outcry after the clashes between neo-nazi and Antifa groups in Coburg in May 2016 meant that the pressure was on to introduce laws that make it look like the government is doing something about this.

Since then, the rationale for these laws was also conflated with the various outbreaks of youth violence at public events such at the Moomba brawling in 2016.

DESIGNATED AREAS

To understand how these new laws  work you need to understand how ‘Designated Areas’ already work in Victoria

The Chief Commissioner of Victoria Police already has the power to declare a specific area or event to be a ‘designated area’ under the Control of Weapons Act 1990 (Section 10D or 10E) if they believe or assess that there was previous use of weapons in that area or during previous occasions of the event or that they assess that there is a ‘likelihood that violence or disorder involving the use of weapons will occur in that area’.

These ‘designated areas’ were introduced in 2009 to allow police to deal with the perceived rise in youth knife-related crime several years ago, which was disputed at the time.)  Designated areas are now increasingly being used in protest situations.

This provides police with additional powers to search people and vehicles without warrant within that defined area for up to 12 hours.

The new Act provides additional powers for police within those designated areas.

NEW POLICE POWERS

The Act provides additional police powers in designated areas to require a person wearing a face covering to either remove their face covering or leave the area immediately

A police officer who reasonably believes a person intends to use the kind of violent and antisocial behaviour that would constitute one of the new public order offences of affray or violent disorder created by this Act is able to direct a person to leave a designated area.

If the person refuses to comply with this order to leave, they will be committing an offence.

In detail, this Act amends the Control of Weapons Act 1990 with

1) new section 10KA(1) which would allow a police officer to direct a person wearing a face covering to leave a designated area if the person refuses to remove it when requested.

(the police officer must reasonably believe the person is wearing the face covering primarily to conceal his or her identity or to protect himself or herself from the effects of crowd-controlling substances such as capsicum spray)

NEW OFFENCES

The Act amends the Crimes Act 1958 to abolish the common law offences of affray, rout and riot and create new statutory offences of affray and violent disorder (new sections 195H or 195I)

Affray now captures all conduct that currently constitutes the common-law offence of affray. “uses or threatens unlawful violence and whose conduct would cause a person of reasonable firmness present at the scene to be terrified” – Maximum penalty 5 years

Violent disorder, committed when six or more persons use violence for a common purpose, and that conduct damages property or causes injury to a person – Maximum penalty 10 years

If committed wearing a face covering the maximum penalty rises to 7 years for affray and 15 years for violent disorder.

OUR CONCERNS

Any laws targeting protesting can dangerously impinge upon basic freedoms of speech, expression and assembly.

It is important to acknowledge that it is already a crime in Victoria to be disguised with “unlawful intent” under s 49C of the Summary Offences Act 1966 (Vic).

USE OF MASKS AS POLITICAL EXPRESSION

Police already asking people to remove masks at protests. this is likely to increase with these new laws.

The new law means Police become arbiters of expression versus intent to commit violence.

THE RIGHT TO ANONYMITY

“The right to protest should not be contingent on consent to surveillance” – Liberty Victoria.

At times, particularly in circumstances where a protest is about controversial views, maintaining our anonymity may be critical to allowing freedom of association.

If attending a protest necessarily entails intrusive surveillance from the state or the threat of violence from other groups then you cannot really say we have genuine ‘freedom’ of peaceful assembly.

Furthermore, Victoria Police use of Facial Recognition Technology is currently unregulated

MASKS AS PROTECTION

Masks are commonly used at protests to protect attendeees from OC foam (Including journalists, observers, medics etc).

The use of OC, capsicum foam at protests in Victoria has skyrocketed.

It is inevitable that many people in the vicinity including other police, can be severely affected. In some incidents up to 70 members of the public were affected by spray at any one time.

Scarves, goggles, gas masks or handkerchiefs are used by journalists, media photographers, legal observers, street medics or bystanders.

This law now criminalises that practice.

THE Act CONTAINS NO EXEMPTIONS OR PROTECTIONS

Some anti-mask laws in other countries include exemptions for wearing masks for religious purposes, for theatrical productions, sporting events, parades, civil defence drills and protection from severe weather.

Some, but not all, include exemptions for political expression. There are currently no protections or exemptions in current Act.

STATUS IN PARLIAMENT

The Scrutiny of Acts and Regulations Committee (SARC) examined the Bill  and referred it back to Parliament for its consideration on the question “whether or not clauses 6 and 7 (police powers in 10KA(1) etc) are suitable, necessary and proportionate limitations on the implied freedom of political communication.”

The Bill was accented to and is now law in Victoria.


The new Act can be read online here: http://classic.austlii.edu.au/au/legis/vic/num_act/claoa201732o2017432/

Some more detailed critique of the law here:  https://melbourneactivistlegalsupport.org/2017/03/14/anti-mask-laws-proposed-in-victoria/

and http://www.premier.vic.gov.au/new-laws-to-stamp-out-violence-at-public-events/

Last year the Human Rights Law Centre launched a report, Safeguarding Democracy, that documents the unmistakable trend of governments at national and state level steadily chipping away at free speech, a free press, peaceful assembly, open government and the rule of law – some of the foundations of our democracy.

Anti-mask laws proposed in Victoria

benny zablePerformance artist and activist: Benny Zable. Photo: Wanagi Zable-Andrews

Artist and activist Benny Zable (pictured above) has been wearing a mask at protests throughout Australia for over 30 years. His distinctive skull-like gas mask and painted death-bringer costume, atop large black radioactive drums has become an icon of the peace, anti-nuclear and environmental movements throughout the country. He is a performance artist who uses his art form to depict a chilling prophesy of nuclear and environmental catastrophe.

But proposed Victorian anti-mask legislation could put at risk this and countless other forms of peaceful political expression and potentially undermine the freedom we have to assemble and associate.

Victorian Attorney-General Martin Pakula will introduce a bill into parliament next week (March 2017) that will contain a new offence of “violent disorder”, with a 10 year maximum and a 15 year maximum if you commit that offence whilst wearing a face covering. The proposed laws will also give police specific powers to order people to remove a face mask and an another new offence if people do not comply.

Aside from the totally unnecessary move to create a new protest related offence when plenty of others (such as ‘riot’, ‘affray’, assault etc) already exist, any laws targeting protesting can dangerously impinge upon basic freedoms of speech, expression and assembly.

Image result for protest masks

According to the Attorney General, “It will be clear in the legislation that we’re only talking about face coverings where the police believe you’re wearing it for the purpose of concealing your identity, or for the purpose of protecting yourself against the impact of capsicum spray and the like.” (ABC Online 13/3/17)

It was only a matter of time before some Victorian Government put up some anti-masks laws.   The intense media and public outcry after the clashes between neo-nazi and Antifa groups in Coburg in May 2016 meant that the pressure was on to look like they were doing something. The state opposition, police command and the Police Association and Victoria’s police minister Lisa Neville all stridently called for face masks at protests to be banned after Coburg as a way of dealing with the media outrage.  There should be no doubt that these laws are political. They will do nothing to stem the rise of the far-right in Victoria.  Rather than actually confront the growing surge of active street politics by dangerous neo-nazi groups, the Victorian Government seem like they will respond with a blanket increase in penalties and the banning of bandannas.

“The wearing of masks at protests, I think, simply indicates that people have come with the intent of committing some sort of violence and want to evade the law. That is totally unacceptable”  said Liberal Party mp and Shadow Minister for Multicultural Affairs, Inga Peulich in Parliament this month- (8 March 2017).   This simplistic view has driven the introduction of this Bill. It is wrong and its adoption into law could undermine some vital civil and political rights.

It is already a crime in Victoria to be disguised with “unlawful intent” under s 49C of the Summary Offences Act 1966 (Vic). If a police officer has a reasonable suspicion that a masked protester is going to commit a violent act, he or she can arrest and unmask the protester.

Spain, Russia, France, Canada and many other countries have introduced various anti-mask laws over recent decades. Canada passed laws banning the wearing of masks during a riot or unlawful assembly after 2012 Quebec student protests at which only a tiny  proportion of participants wore any face coverings.  In response to the Dakota Access Pipeline protests, local legislators have been preparing laws which would bar people from wearing “a mask or hood that covers part or all of the face when in a public area, ban use of coverings for a person’s face while at a demonstration or rally on private property without written permission.”  Incidentally, anti-mask legislation was first introduced in the United States as a measure to restrict the Klu Klux Clan.

Some anti-mask laws in other countries include exemptions for wearing masks for religious purposes, for theatrical productions, sporting events, parades, civil defense drills and protection from severe weather. Some, but not all, include exemptions for political expression. It is not known what exemptions, if any, the Victorian Bill will include.

On the information we have so far, the bill poses a threat to the freedom of assembly and association and to freedom of political expression for the following reasons.

Masks as political expression

Image result for protest masks history

Masks of all sorts have a very long association with protest and political expression.  We wear them to mock and ridicule public figures and politicians, to symbolize an act of oppression, to express dissent and disdain and as an act of political street theatre.  Masks in some form are common at rallies, marches and political demonstrations and they have been throughout human history.

Liberty Victoria points out that “Protests are public spectacles, often designed to attract media attention. A costume, including a mask, is a visual way to express a political viewpoint. That is why Anti-Iraq protesters constructed paper mache masks to ridicule Bush, Howard, and Blair; why supporters of the band pussy- riot, imprisoned in Putin’s Russia, donned balaclavas to protest the band’s sentence; and why occupy wall street activists adopted the Guy Fawkes mask recently popularized by the film V for Vendetta. These protesters were not violent. They used masks to ridicule politicians, express solidarity, or communicate an idea.”

What this proposed law does is make police the arbiter of this form of political expression.

Ordinary, regular and very non-artistic police members will suddenly have the power to go up to a person at a political demonstration and demand that they remove their face covering.

If a political artist like the renown Benny Zable does not comply then he risks being arrested.

There is also a blurry line when it comes to face coverings and where the limits of this law will lie.  Religious headscarfs? Funny hats that cover the eyes? Groucho Marx glasses? Paper-mache politician heads?  If the proposed laws contain exemptions how will police determine what is acceptable or unacceptable? Vague but punitive laws and arbitrary policing has a chilling effect and deters people from attending protests or choosing to express themselves due to fear of repercussions, even if what they are intending to do is not actually unlawful.

The right to anonymity

“The right to protest should not be contingent on consent to surveillance” says Liberty Victoria.
 At times, particularly in circumstances where a protest is about controversial views, maintaining our anonymity may be critical to allowing freedom of association.  If attending a protest necessarily entails intrusive surveillance from the state or the threat of violence from other groups then you cannot really say we have genuine ‘freedom’ of peaceful assembly.    This very point was once affirmed by an important US civil rights case brought before the United StatesImage result for protest masks

Supreme Court (NAACP vs. Alabama 1958)  which stated that ‘Inviolability of privacy in group association may in circumstances be indispensable to preservation of freedom of association, particularly where a group espouses dissident beliefs.”

Protesters have legitimate reasons for wanting to conceal their identity.  We may not wish to be subject to police surveillance, and scrutiny In an era of ubiquitous CCTV and street cameras, police filming units and the use of facial recognition technology, any facial image obtained by Victoria Police can be utilised in numerous unregulated and intrusive ways and can be stored indefinitely. The Victorian Parliament is yet to legislate or provide any restrictions or regulatory guidance about the police use of facial recognition technology despite it being in use for several years now.
Fear of retaliatory violence is also very real for protest groups confronting far-right or neo-nazi groups on the streets.   Far-right groups have used social media to identify counter- protesters, naming them in blogs and Facebook pages and attracting comments making threats of violence.  Several assaults of activists who had been identified by nazis have occurred since the first Reclaim Australia rally in early 2015.   In these circumstances it is understandable that some people might want to protect their identity at rallies without having any intention of engaging in criminality.

In this political climate, many activists face a difficult decision. If they take to the streets and protest on a controversial campaign (especially a campaign that has involved both legal and illegal tactics), they risk this surveillance, harassment and intimidation.  If they don’t take to the streets, they are compromising their beliefs and remaining silent about the things that matter.

For many, a solution has been to continue protesting on these campaigns, but with masks covering their faces. It clearly isn’t always the best solution. But wearing a mask doesn’t mean activists are guilty, or that they are ‘terrorists.’  For many activists, it simply means they don’t trust police, ASIO or others intent on doing them harm.

Masks as protection

Many commentators have already pointed out that faces at modern protests are often covered with scarves, goggles, gas masks or handkerchiefs in response to police use of chemical-based weapons such as pepper (OC) spray and tear gas. 

Image result for street medicThe use of OC, capsicum foam at protests in Victoria has skyrocketed in recent years, and has correlated with the rise in people wearing some form of face covering.  Even professional journalists covering protests now wear some sort of face protection to make sure the spray doesn’t get into their nose, eyes and mouths whilst taking photos. Medics and legal support teams wear face protection.  When police deploy OC spray or foam at a protest event, it is inevitable that many people in the vicinity including other police, can be severely affected.  In some OC spray incidents at Melbourne rallies up to 70 people were affected by spray at any one time. The need for some sort of mouth and nose covering is very real.

The Attorney General has stated that the legislation will only target face coverings where the police “believe you’re wearing it for the purpose of concealing your identity, or for the purpose of protecting yourself against the impact of capsicum spray and the like.” (ABC Online 13/3/17).  If the wearing of protective face coverings becomes unlawful under this new legislation it will be yet another infringement upon our right to assemble without the risk of state violence.

“Masked, I advance”  ― The opposition to this Bill

This Bill is only about to be introduced and opposition to it is likely to grow. It will take several months before it becomes law.

Liberty Victoria has already come out strongly against any laws banning masks, stating:

“Simply banning all masks at protests would be a broad brush “one size fits all” approach that undermines our civil liberties when the case has not been made as to why such laws are necessary and proportionate. To the same end, to introduce a mandatory or prescriptive sentencing model for those who commit disorder offences while wearing masks would cause injustice and represent a further erosion of judicial discretion in sentencing. Any bill that proposes such measures should be opposed.”

Liberty Victoria’s full statement came be read here (PDF).

Fiona Patton (MP) from the Australian Sex Party has spoken out in parliament about any proposed anti-mask legislation. “Such a decision could have negative flow-on effects for the very groups targeted. Mask or no mask, if you are behaving in ways that are not consistent with acceptable behaviour, police already have the power to act in such circumstances.” She said back in June last year.

Melbourne Activist Legal Support will be watching this Bill closely and providing further commentary.  There will likely be an opportunity for community, legal and human rights groups to make submissions at some point and we will keep people up to date as things change or progress.

Watch this space.