9 June 2023

Today, Fitzroy Legal Service has sent an open letter to the Chief Commissioner of Victoria Police, Shane Patton, to raise serious allegations regarding the police operation at a demonstration for the legalisation of cannabis in April this year.

First-hand accounts and video footage reveal that the ‘420-rally’ at Melbourne’s Flagstaff Gardens saw the Victoria Police deploy an excessive operation that involved inappropriate use of force, police misconduct and the violation of people’s right to protest freely.

In its open letter supported by a ten-page report, Fitzroy Legal Service called for the public release of key information relating to the operation and states that in its analysis Victoria Police “acted in breach of the law, Victoria Police guidelines and policies, and attendees’ human and constitutional rights.”

Fitzroy Legal Service Senior Drug Outreach Lawyer, Adam Willson, said this was of great concern for harm-reduction advocates, but also raised concerns for the protection of the public’s right to freely express political opinion and peacefully protest in Victoria whatever the cause.

“It’s vital that any community member wanting to take part in a political demonstration should be able to do so free from fear, intimidation, and most importantly, unnecessary interference by our police.”.

Adam Willson, FLS Senior Drug Outreach Lawyer

“After viewing footage of the operations and speaking with both attendees and organisers on the day, we’re confident that this was far from the case in April, with cases of handcuffing without cause, undue searches and unnecessary arrests.

“This is not just a breach of attendees’ rights under the Charter of Human Rights and Responsibilities Act, but blatantly incompatible with Victoria Police’s very own Drug Strategy and the harm-reduction principles that they publicly espouse.”

Victoria Police’s Drug Strategy states that Victoria Police recognises that drug problems are first and foremost health issues. In promoting the strategy, Victoria Police has stated that it will focus on the drugs causing the most harm within the community, will focus on drug dealers, and will ensure users are connected to appropriate treatment and support services. 

Fitzroy Legal Service contends that none of these commitments were reflected in attendees’ experiences. In the report, one attendee commented that they saw half of the attendees being searched by police and taken away in handcuffs.

“It’s putting people through a humiliating experience,” they said. “Now with [medicinal cannabis] prescriptions it’s getting harder to accept this intolerable approach.”

Fitzroy Legal Service is calling on Victoria Police to commit to implementing its own drug strategy, to ensure that it doesn’t deploy excessive operations at future rallies, and to publicly release information about the April rally including the cost to the public purse and what consideration was given to their obligations under the Charter of Human Rights and Responsibilities Act.

View and share Fitzroy Legal Service’s full open letter and ten page report drawing on firsthand accounts from rally attendees and organisers.

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