Police given greater arrest powers near G20 security zone

Toronto police Chief Bill Blair during a q & a with local media at police headquarters.

Toronto police Chief Bill Blair during a q & a with local media at police headquarters. Fred Lum/THE GLOBE AND MAIL

Province quietly passed regulation that gives police the right to search and arrest anyone who refuses to self-identify near zone

Jeff Gray and Kate Allen

Globe and Mail Update Published on Friday, Jun. 25, 2010 9:51AM EDT Last updated on Friday, Jun. 25, 2010 1:47PM EDT

Toronto Police Chief Bill Blair on Friday defended his move to seek what he called a “clarification” of police powers around the walled security zone that allows officers to demand anyone approaching the fence to identify themselves.

He dismissed criticism that the expanded police powers were “sweeping” or obtained secretly.

The Chief said police approached the province several months ago to have the security zone designated under an existing Ontario law that gives police expanded powers in places such as Union Station or police headquarters.

The government of Ontario quietly designated the entire G20 security zone as a “public work” nearly a month ago under a little-used act that vastly expands police arrest powers.

The move means anyone entering, or even approaching, a designated area can be searched without a warrant. All the streets inside the security fence in Toronto, where the summit is being hosted, have been temporarily designated under the Public Works Protection Act.

The act usually covers highways and canals used for the transmission of power and other public utilities, which are permanently designated. It also covers public provincial and municipal buildings. It gives “guards” of these sites the ability to demand a visitor’s name and purpose for the visit and to refuse permission to enter, and arrest without warrant.

“This is not new powers. It is not sweeping powers. It’s powers which are clearly defined in law,” Chief Blair told a press conference at police headquarters. “… It was not a secret.”

The temporary designation went into effect June 21, and will be rescinded the day after the summit ends, on June 28. Those found guilty under the act are subject to imprisonment for no longer than two months or a $500 fine.

A spokeswoman for the Ministry of Community Safety says the Ontario Public Works Protection Act dates back to 1939, and was simply extended to the G20 security perimeter for one week.

The same law gives police the power to ask anyone entering a courthouse for identification and to search any bags they have.

“It’s a very clever way to expand police powers,” said Nathalie Des Rosiers of the Canadian Civil Liberties Association. The group stated in a press release that it was “very concerned” about the implications of the measure and noted it “dramatically altered” the advice lawyers gave to protesters and the public.

The CCLA believes this is the first time an area has been designated temporarily.

The move was passed June 2 and only appeared on e-laws June 16. It won’t be published in the regular paper format until July 3, after the summits are over.

A spokeswoman for the Ministry of Community Safety says the cabinet passed the law after a request from Toronto Police Chief Bill Blair.


1 thought on “Police given greater arrest powers near G20 security zone

  1. votejohnrichardson Post author

    Marcus Gee
    Blair says no new powers in fence law – but it still looks bad

    Move to include G20 security fence in protection act creates regrettable impression authorities are resorting to secretive measures


    Globe and Mail Update Published on Friday, Jun. 25, 2010 12:48PM EDT Last updated on Friday, Jun. 25, 2010 1:01PM ED
    “Police state,” shout the placards carried by some G20 protesters, who object to the security fence and throngs of police in Canada’s largest city. That’s nonsense, of course: the cops are letting peaceful protesters do their thing unmolested and the fence is only there to protect the summiteers. But a new regulation enacted quietly by the government of Ontario is making it much harder for authorities to defend themselves against the charge that they are out to silence dissent and breach civil liberties.

    At a press conference on Friday, reporters peppered Toronto police chief Bill Blair with questions about why he asked the province to extend the Public Works Protection Act to cover the security fence that surrounds the G20 summit site. The law allows police to arrest anyone who comes within five metres of the fence and refuses to identify themselves or submit to a search.

    Why was the law passed on the sly, they asked Chief Blair? And don’t police already have a panoply of powers to deal with law-breaking protesters?

    Chief Blair, formidably articulate as always, gave as good as he got. He claims the regulation was passed with full due process by the government and published on an online database last week for anyone to see. He notes that the Public Works Protection Act is a long-standing, existing law — not a new one — that already gives police the power to challenge suspicious people at sensitive public facilities such as police stations and train stations. Police only wanted it to extended to the security fence because of the unusual threat from G20 protesters. Though he conceded that police already have many “common law” powers they can use against unruly protesters, activists were challenging the legal basis for those power and the police wanted to be double sure they had proper authority to defend the fence.

    “This is not new powers. It is not sweeping powers. It’s powers which are clearly defined in law,” Chief Blair said.

    Even so, this looks bad on the police and on the government. Essentially, the new regulation gives authorities the right to nab anyone who comes anywhere near the fence and exercises his right not to identify himself or submit to a search. Why such a power is necessary is far from clear. If anyone actually assaults the fence, as some militant groups have promised to do, police can arrest them for various offences from mischief to assaulting a police officer. Simply hanging around the fence should not be against the law.

    Even if the new regulation was published online, the government made no attempt to tell anyone — protesters or the broader public — about it. Its existence only came out after it was used to arrest a man outside the fence, and the man says he only learned about it after his release. Legislators have never had a chance to debate the regulation and it will not be published in the Ontario Gazette, the official record of provincial laws, until the summit is over.

    All of this creates the regrettable impression that authorities are resorting to secretive, draconian measures to control protesters. That plays right into the hands of the activists who come to these summits in hopes of portraying themselves as victims of a militarized undemocratic state. Score one for them.


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