December 19, 2009
Torch security manhandles reporterHospitalized after incident with cops
NEWMARKET -- Hundreds of people lined the streets to watch what was supposed to be a peaceful passing of the Olympic flame yesterday.
But supporters of the Vancouver 2010 torch relay were instead left stunned as they watched security staff manhandle two members of the media, one of whom, a Sun reporter, had to be hospitalized with a head injury.
Not only that, but earlier in the day, a Canadian Press photographer was also banged up by cops in downtown Toronto as he tried to shoot pictures of the torch.
Ian Robertson, a 22-year Sun newsman, was filming video of shooting victim Louise Russo's torch relay along Davis Dr. when an RCMP officer wearing an Olympic uniform grabbed him, causing him to fall.
"It was absolutely overzealous and uncalled for," Robertson said last night.
'JUST A GUY'
Robertson, 61, had no idea the security officer, in his Olympic garb, was a cop. "He never identified himself, so I had no idea who he was," Robertson said. "He was just a guy in a track suit."
As he was being forced off the road, Robertson twisted in an effort to break loose from the unknown man's clutches.
"I was telling him to take his hands off of me, that this was unnecessary," Robertson said. "That's when I stumbled and fell backwards."
Sun photographer Dave Thomas was also pushed several times but he was not injured.
Four other Sun staffers have since come forward with similar complaints about torch security staff. York Regional Police say they are investigating what happened to Robertson.
The mild-mannered Robertson was fitted with a neckbrace, put on a stretcher and taken by ambulance to Newmarket hospital after the shoving incident. Afterward, he was clearly dazed and had difficulty speaking.
"We're appalled by what appears to be an unprovoked and unwarranted assault on one of our journalists who was simply doing his job," said Sun interim editor-in-chief James Wallace.
The "police-state goon tactics" was totally uncalled for at what was supposed to be a feel-good event with obvious media interest, said Brad Honywill, president of Local 87-M of the Communications, Energy, and Paperworkers Union of Canada, which represents Sun journalists.
Honywill wants criminal charges laid against the officers involved.
Earlier in the day, Canadian Press photographer Frank Gunn was also on the receiving end of police aggression when officers apparently took issue with him trying to photograph the torch near Front and Church Sts.
Gunn was grabbed on the shoulder by one cop, ran into by at least one more bike cop, and then surrounded by eight or nine officers on bikes. Gunn said he was crouched on the ground, about three metres away from the torch when it was lit, and was clearly identifiable as a journalist with his cameras and torch-relay credentials when the police turned aggressive on him.
"They certainly appeared to be overbearing," said Gunn, a 25-year news photographer. "They fail to recognize that this is supposed to be a free and open event. They turned it into a very closed and aggressive event."
But from the RCMP, the police measures were "appropriate."
RCMP Staff-Sgt. Mike Cote, a spokesman for the V2010 Integrated Security Unit, defended the security detail's actions and said they have done nothing wrong.
"The security team is responsible for the safety and security of the torchbearers and the torch at all times," Cote said. "As a result, (they) will not let anyone other than the torchbearers and the flame attendants into the secure perimeter."
Based on reports from the torch security team, Cote claims Robertson was warned twice before being physically removed from the area.
However, he couldn't explain how the media are supposed to know where that area begins and ends.