June 29, 2010
A pedestrian walks through a fenced off area on Front St. in Toronto, Thursday, June 24, 2010. The perimeter of the G20 summit security zone was designated under Ontario’s Public Works Protection Act, meaning police officers had the power to search and detain people near the security zone during the summit.
Tara Walton/Toronto Star File Photo
The Ontario government is now insisting “no extra powers” were granted to Toronto Police for the G20 summit.
In the wake of criticism surrounding a change made secretly by Premier Dalton McGuinty’s cabinet on June 2, the provincial Liberals say police were not given the authority to search people who ventured within five metres of the downtown security perimeter.
“There were no extra powers granted to police for G20. As we stated repeatedly the regulation was about defining property, not police power,” said Laura Blondeau, an aide to Community Safety Minister Rick Bartolucci.
“The regulation signed by the minister speaks to the definition of property and only to the area defined by the perimeter. The five metres the minister was talking about can be found in the regulation,” said Blondeau.
The five metres in question referred to “a strip inside the fence, where the fence runs along two places that are not streets or sidewalks, specifically, land near a Rogers Centre parking lot and the land behind a building near the Rogers Centre.”
“The actions of police outside the fence to search and detain falls under the Criminal Code and common law. If the arrest is contested a ruling on whether the search and or arrest is decided by the courts,” she said.
“So there’s nothing that occurred in Toronto (last) weekend with regard to the actions of police, that pertained to the regulation,” said Blondeau.
“There was not one arrest pursuant to the PWPA (Public Works Protection Act) – all arrests occurred under the Criminal Code of Canada.”
As first revealed by the Star last Friday, the Public Works Protection Act, a little-known law that dates back to 1939 and the dawn of World War II, was secretly amended by McGuinty’s cabinet by an order-in-council on June 2.
It was quietly posted on the government’s e-laws website on June 16 and will not be published in the official Ontario Gazette until this Saturday – even though the time-limited legislation expired Monday.
Nathalie Des Rosiers, general counsel for Canadian Civil Liberties Association, said Tuesday a public inquiry is needed because the province and the police have much to answer for given the confusion surrounding the interpretation of the “archaic” law.
“This Act could not have changed the Constitution of Canada overnight,” Des Rosiers told a news conference outside the Ontario Legislature.
In his only public comments on the law, McGuinty defended his government’s actions and said he was happy to oblige Toronto Police Chief Bill Blair’s request in May for a clarification on the PWPA.
“I just think it’s in keeping with the values and standards of Ontarians,” the premier told the Star.
“We’re supportive of that when it becomes our airports, our Legislature and our courthouses and I think for a time-limited purpose it’s also supportable here,” McGuinty said Friday.
“A couple of things led to my very strong support of this time-limited extraordinary measure. Number one, I have a lot of confidence in Chief Blair. All of my dealings with him have demonstrated to me that he is a fair and reasonable man and he brings that same approach to his policing responsibilities,” he said.
“Secondly, let’s understand what we’re talking about here. What we’re saying is if during this seven-day period … you want to go and visit the secure zone that’s going to be like going to visit the airport, city hall, a courthouse or the Ontario Legislature,” said McGuinty.
“These are all special public spaces where security is a heightened concern.”
Indeed, similar laws are used to protect public safety at large events like rock concerts.
McGuinty, who was at the cabinet table on June 2 when the order-in-council making the regulatory change was approved, emphasized that Ontarians have “got a choice” about going near the security perimeter.
“Police, as you know, are going to be entitled to ask for ID and to search your bag as a condition of you being there … you can comply, you can refuse. If you refuse, you’re going to have to leave,” he said.
Asked if it were like the use of 1970 War Measures Act by former prime minister Pierre Trudeau during the FLQ crisis, McGuinty said: “No. It’s very time-limited.”
“I think most Ontarians understand that there’s something extraordinary happening inside our province. We’ve trued to limit the intrusiveness to a specific secure zone as much as we can by working together with our police,” he said.
“But there is a real concern that’s heightened at this time that’s related to security and that’s why this special measure is there.”
Despite the objections of the opposition and civil libertarians, McGuinty insisted he was not worried about any political fallout for his Liberal government.
“Most people understand that if I’m going to go down there and get involved and if I want to get close to action that it’s an area where security is a real issue.”