G20 law was 'massive' breach of rights, Marin says (Toronto Star)

G20 law was 'massive' breach of rights, Marin says (Toronto Star)

December 8 2010

By: Robert Benzie and Rob Ferguson Toronto Star

Premier Dalton McGuinty's "illegal" regulation, which enabled police to detain people during Toronto's G20 summit, resulted in "the most massive compromise of civil liberties in Canadian history," says Ontario Ombudsman André Marin.

In a scorching report to the Legislature, Marin said the secret measure - requested by Toronto Police Chief Bill Blair - was "likely unconstitutional" and "almost certainly beyond the authority of the government to enact."

"Responsible protesters and civil rights groups who took the trouble to educate themselves about their rights had no way of knowing they were ... walking into a trap - they were literally caught in the Act; the Public Works Protection Act, an act of public entrapment," he told reporters Tuesday. "For the citizens of Toronto, the days up to and including the (June 26-27) weekend of the G20 will live in infamy as a time period where martial law set in in the city of Toronto, leading to the most massive compromise of civil liberties in Canadian history."

"And we can never let that happen again."

Marin recommended the little-known 1939 Act be revised or replaced and protocols developed so the public is made better aware when police powers are modified.

Community Safety Minister Jim Bradley, who has already appointed former Ontario chief justice Roy McMurtry to review the World War II-era law, agreed the government's communication of the change last summer was "totally inadequate" and said new procedures are imminent. While Bradley said the Act will not be revamped or scrapped until after McMurtry reports back next spring, he admitted he "would be very surprised if it would ever remain intact."

McGuinty, for his part, said Marin's study would "be very helpful in terms of where we need to go" when the chief justice delivers his recommendations on the legislation's future.

As first disclosed by the Star on June 25, the Liberal cabinet quietly designated areas within the G20 security zone a "public work" using regulation 233/10 under the Act.

Many were led to believe the law gave police the power to arrest anyone refusing to provide identification or submit to a search within five metres of the outer perimeter. In fact, the measure just applied to within the secure area at the summit site. Neither politicians nor police cleared up the confusion until the G20 was over.

Marin singled out Toronto Police, which refused to cooperate with his probe, for blame in the debacle, saying the entire episode had its "ground zero in Chief Blair's office."

But Toronto Police's Mark Pugash noted only two people were arrested under the Act, which lawyers for the force had initially interpreted as empowering officers five metres outside the fence. Police lawyers revised their opinion on June 26 and Pugash said front-line officers were told of the change and "in a perfect world" Torontonians would also have been informed.

"The situation was heating up significantly, the crowds were building, the aggression was building, the mood of the crowd was changing very much," he said.

Marin also savaged the province's Ministry of Community Safety and Correctional Services, then run by Rick Bartolucci, who McGuinty later shuffled to the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing and replaced him with Bradley.

"The effect of the regulation . . . was to infringe on the freedom of expression in ways that do not seem justifiable in a free and democratic society," wrote the ombudsman in his exhaustive post-mortem, illustrated with 42 colour photos.

"The ministry simply handed over to the Toronto Police Service inordinate powers, without any efforts made to ensure those powers would not be misunderstood," he wrote.

"Apart from insiders in the government of Ontario, only members of the Toronto Police Service knew that the rules of the game had changed, and they were the ones holding the deck of 'go directly to jail' cards."

The temporary regulation, enacted June 2, was supposed to clear up any confusion for police officers if they had to stop someone inside the restricted area around the Metro Toronto Convention Centre, where world leaders met June 26-27.

Thousands of protesters took to city streets with small bands of vandals smashing shop windows, torching police cars and creating mayhem in the downtown core.

While police arrested 1,105 people and charged 278, the majority of detainees were released without being booked and most charges have since been dropped.

Nathalie Des Rosiers, general counsel for the Canadian Civil Liberties Association, praised Marin's findings and criticized McGuinty's administration for the imbroglio.

"They took a risk and it backfired. We should be careful in the way police ask for more powers and the government obliges."

Progressive Conservative Leader Tim Hudak said the report shows McGuinty and his government "conspired to hide the facts from the public."

"The buck stops with the premier and his cabinet," added Hudak, sidestepping the question when asked if Blair should resign, saying "the chief will be accountable to his employers."

NDP Leader Andrea Horwath said "the premier has to apologize to the people of this city" for the mess.

Horwath said "a full public inquiry" is still required and pledged to strike one if she is wins next year's election.

Along with McMurtry's review, retired judge John W. Morden is conducting an investigation of the G20 command structure and policing model at the behest of the Toronto Police Services Board.