McGuinty doesn't rue secrecy on G20 law

The Ontario government should have done more to inform the public about broad police powers to search and arrest people within Toronto's G20 summit perimeter, Premier Dalton McGuinty acknowledged Friday.
Authorities in Ontario allowed the public and media to believe police could demand the identity, and search the bags of, anyone within five metres of Toronto's G20 fence. ((Mike Segar/Reuters))

The Ontario government should have done more to inform the public about broad police powers to search and arrest people within Toronto's G20 summit perimeter, Premier Dalton McGuinty acknowledged Friday.

"Some confusion arose, and in hindsight I think that we could have, and probably should have, done something to make it perfectly clear to people," McGuinty said in an interview with The Canadian Press.

He said his government could have "done a better job" of informing people about the temporary, powers-granting regulation the cabinet passed on June 2.

But McGuinty said he doesn't feel he owes the public an apology for what happened during the summit last weekend.

The temporary powers regulation, which will only be published in the official Ontario Gazette on Saturday, five days after it lapsed, became publicly known when a man was arrested two days before the summit for refusing to provide ID to police while exploring the fence around the G20 "red" zone.

Promulgated under the provincial Public Works Protection Act, the regulation designated the fence and public areas within it as a "public work." As a result, police had several typically unconstitutional powers:

  • To require anyone entering the red zone to identify themselves and state their purpose for being there.
  • To search anyone entering the zone.
  • To demand from anyone found in the zone that they prove their authority for being there.
  • To arrest anyone refusing to obey these requirements.

In several pre-summit meetings between civil liberties advocates and security personnel, and in interviews with reporters who specifically asked about the laws that would be used to secure the G20, officials never mentioned the new police powers.

McGuinty said Friday that "there were ads placed in newspapers, and a note was put on our website and a note was put on the City of Toronto's website," but he conceded readers wouldn't have necessarily known "what we were actually talking about."

The advertisements did not mention the Public Works Protection Act or any special regulations, nor police's new arrest powers or the penalty for breaking the act — a fine of up to $500 and up to two months in jail.

Mass arrests, random searches

The Canadian Civil Liberties Association and others blame the government for confusion over the exact powers held by police during the summit.

Police confiscate photographer Renaud Philippe's gas mask and scarf at a G20 demonstration last Sunday in Toronto. Several media organizations, including the CBC and The Canadian Press, equipped their G8/G20 field correspondents with gas masks in case police used tear gas.

Well away from the G20 zone, constables were systematically stopping, interrogating, demanding ID from and searching people in public spaces. In many cases, officers snatched items they found during those searches, including bandanas, scarves, black clothing, goggles, recreation medieval armour and gas masks.

Police also arrested nearly 1,000 people during the G20 and the G8 meeting that preceded it in Huntsville, Ont. Several hundred of those were in mass roundups of protesters, bystanders and media at peaceful sit-ins straddling the Toronto G20 zone.

And it was widely reported and thought that the new, temporary police arrest powers extended to a five-metre buffer beyond the G20 zone. Toronto police Chief Bill Blair said as much in a news conference last Friday, before admitting Tuesday that the five-metre rule never existed.

The Works Protection Act regulation lapsed on Monday, a week after it went into effect.

It won't necessarily fade into history, though. One of the two people arrested for breaching the regulation has said he will contest the charges against him by challenging the act's constitutionality.

Crown lawyers could obviate that challenge, however, by dropping the charges.

With files from The Canadian Press