Statement of Concern: Unlawful use of OC Foam, 25th June 2017
‘No Pride in Hate’ Rally, 25th 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.
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.
- 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 inquiries please contact us.