Another G20 summit in Toronto? Thanks, but no thanks, says Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty.
The city is scarred by the experience of hosting a gathering of world leaders, when police arrested about 1,000 people in a massive crackdown after black-clad protesters rampaged through the city's core, McGuinty said Wednesday.
Asked if it was a mistake to hold the summit in Toronto, the premier didn't hold back.
"Well, let's put it this way: If the prime minister were to sit down and say, 'Can we host another G20 summit in Toronto?' We'd say — I think we'd all say — 'We've been there, we've done that, and thanks very much."'
It's important for global leaders to meet in person, but Toronto went through too much pain, he added.
"There's got to be a better way," McGuinty said. "I think it was very intrusive on life in Toronto. It did result in some fairly serious property damage."
"I also think that there was some tremendous psychological scarring because of what people saw on TV. Burning police cars is not something that anyone will forget for some time."
The violence led to a police crackdown and what's believed to be the largest mass arrest in Canadian history, surpassing even the October Crisis in 1970 when martial law was imposed.
The vast majority of those detained were released without charge within 24 hours, but about 250 people still face charges and more than a dozen remain in custody.
Confusion over expanded police powers
Civil rights groups have been calling for an apology from the government, as well as an independent inquiry into the mass detention of people and widespread use of police force during the June 26-27 summit.
McGuinty has also come under fire for failing to dispel widespread confusion about police powers during the explosive G20 protests.
Last week, the premier admitted to The Canadian Press that his government could have done a better job clarifying a law that many believed had temporarily expanded police powers to stop and detain people during the G20. But he rebuffed calls for an apology.
The regulation, passed June 2, decreed that all streets and sidewalks inside the summit security fence were a "public work" just like courthouses — meaning police could search people trying to enter the area.
But many believed police could arrest anyone who came within five metres of the fence and didn't provide identification.
Neither police nor the province set the record straight until the summit was over. In fact, both made comments about the necessity of such powers.
Community Safety and Correctional Services Minister Rick Bartolucci insisted Wednesday that the government did clarify the law, but acknowledged it should have been "more aggressive" in getting the message out.
"I accept responsibility for that," said a subdued Bartolucci.
"There's absolutely no doubt there was that lack of clarity, and had we put out a statement immediately, we probably would have been able to handle this a little bit better."
The commissioner of community safety informed Toronto police Chief Bill Blair on June 25 — when news broke of the secret law — that there was some "ambiguity" about the new regulation, Bartolucci said.
"Chief Blair assured the commissioner that he would rectify the situation," he added.
It's a flimsy explanation for the fiasco, which saw journalists, civil libertarians and union activists detained without cause, said NDP critic Cheri DiNovo.
"I witnessed personally in my own neighbourhood in Parkdale, young people — just because they were young — being stopped, their backpacks being searched. This was way outside the security zone, way beyond any regulation," she said.
"But it all starts here. It all starts at Queen's Park and it all starts with Dalton McGuinty."
If the power to arrest people near the fence never existed, it's news to the courts that are going to be dealing with the prosecutions of protesters, the New Democrats said.
NDP staffers circulated copies of a bail agreement of protester David Vasey, who made headlines when he was arrested for refusing to show police his ID while walking near the security perimeter. It was the first time most had heard of the regulation, which expired June 28.
Vasey is scheduled to appear in court July 28.
The Opposition Conservatives dismissed calls for a public inquiry, saying there's "ample opportunity" for the police to conduct their own review.
The only inquiry that's needed is one that would examine how McGuinty mismanaged a regulation that was passed "under the cover of darkness of cabinet secrecy," said Tory critic Peter Shurman.
"That was never properly enunciated to the public, nobody knew it had even happened, and during the course of the events as they unfolded, we heard nothing from the Ontario government."