December 09, 2010
Premier Dalton McGuinty’s officials plotted to keep the G20 law secret weeks before the Star revealed that Toronto police believed they had the power to arrest anyone near the summit site.
That extraordinary disclosure, which dominated Thursday’s debate at Queen’s Park, is buried in Ombudsman André Marin’s 125-page report, Caught in the Act, on what he called “the most massive compromise of civil liberties in Canadian history.”
“Your government conspired to keep the facts of the war measures in secret,” Progressive Conservative Leader Tim Hudak lectured McGuinty in the Legislature.
“And then, when the ministry itself wanted to do a press release to explain this to the public, somebody — either you or your minister — gave the order to kill the press release.”
Marin uncovered emails between then-community safety minister Rick Bartolucci’s office and senior bureaucrats that suggest plans were in place to conceal a regulatory change under the Public Works Protection Act.
“Following up on [our] conversation we had earlier about the Public Works designation. Yes, we agree, everyone was on board with drawing out the actual release of that knowledge to the public for as long as what is reasonable,” said a June 7 email between two unnamed senior officials.
“So yeah, let’s not run out the door right away. Yes, communicating quietly to [Toronto Police Chief Bill Blair] so he can carry [on] with his planning is fine. So long as we can stress as best we can that this should be kept under wraps until we are ready for it to be known to the public, that would be great…” it continued.
The memo was sent after cabinet’s secret passage on June 2 of regulation 233/10 under the obscure 1939 Act. It was finalized June 3.
On June 25 — the day before the weekend summit of world leaders at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre — the Star reported ministers had quietly designated areas within the G20 security zone a “public work.”
Blair led people to believe that his officers had been granted the authority to arrest anyone who failed to provide identification or agree to be searched within five metres of the secure conference site.
Later on June 25, Bartolucci’s ministry drafted a press release outlining the changes under the Public Works Protection Act that specifically said “it does not authorize police officers to require individuals to submit to searches on roads and sidewalks outside the zone.”
But the news release was never distributed because, according to Marin, “by the end of the day, the ministry had decided to scrap the idea of going public altogether” since there was only one media call on the five-metre rule.
McGuinty replaced Bartolucci with Jim Bradley in an August cabinet shuffle.
“Who gave the order to kill the press release and keep this secret from the public?” demanded Hudak.
“You’d think if it was that important, the ombudsman would have made reference to that,” shot back a grim-faced McGuinty.
Later, the premier insisted his government was only trying to do the right thing by ceding to Blair’s demand for more authority.
“We were approached by the police to help them protect public safety. We responded quickly. In hindsight, I say we responded perhaps too quickly. We will learn from that,” he said, noting former chief justice Roy McMurtry is reviewing the act and will return next spring with recommendations.
But NDP Leader Andrea Horwath said McGuinty is trying to have it both ways.
“How can the premier seriously claim that his only problem was a failure to communicate when he never actually tried to communicate the facts or correct the misinformation?” said Horwath
McGuinty countered by citing a paragraph from Marin’s report released Tuesday that said “there is no fair basis for suggesting that the ministry’s purpose in recommending the passage of regulation 233/10 was to infringe or deny freedom of expression.”
During the G20, which saw looting on the streets of downtown Toronto, police arrested 1,105 people and charged 278, but most charges have since been dropped.