Province to probe 'secret law,' G20 police powers

The Globe and Mail

G20 protesters at Queen and Spadina late Sunday afternoon June 27, 2010. (Jonas Naimark for The Globe and Mail/Jonas Naimark for The Globe and Mail)

A former Ontario chief justice will investigate the controversial law the province amended before the G20 - one whose amendment wasn't publicized and which police led the public to believe gave them extra powers to enforce security around the summit's perimeter in downtown Toronto.

Roy McMurtry will lead an independent review of the Public Works Protection Act, a Second World War-era piece of legislation Premier Dalton McGuinty's government amended in the weeks prior to the G20 summit, reportedly at the request of the Integrated Security Unit in charge of maintaining safety over the weekend.

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The review will look at "the scope of authority given to police" under the act, what exactly a "public work is," how best to notify the public about regulations made under the act and how it can be applied to "large-scale events such as national or international conferences, sporting events and public demonstrations," according to a statement from the province.

However, Community Safety Minister Jim Bradley stressed that the scope of Mr. McMurtry's review will be very narrow. Mr. McMurtry, a former attorney-general of Ontario, will not make an assessment of what happened in the days leading up to the G20, Mr. Bradley told reporters on Wednesday. Rather, he said, Mr. McMurtry will provide advice to the government on how to communicate regulations under the existing legislation to the public.

"It seems to me if you've got a piece of legislation enacted in war time in 1939, it deserves a review," Mr. Bradley said.

On the Friday before the summit, Toronto police chief Bill Blair said the law gave police the ability to search, arrest and question without warrant anyone within five metres of the security fence around the Metro Toronto Convention Centre. It did not: The legislation in question only applied to the perimeter itself.

More than 1,000 people were arrested over the course of the weekend, and multiple class-action suits have been launched following the G20 summit. Individuals detained, lawyers and civil-liberties groups have accused the police of overreacting to protests over the weekend, which included vandalism in Toronto's commercial downtown. Police conducted mass arrests both of alleged G20 organizers and apparent passersby on the Saturday and Sunday of the summit weekend. On the Sunday evening, hundreds of people were penned in at the intersection of Queen Street and Spadina Avenue in the pouring rain - police say they thought protesters using Black Bloc tactics were among them.

Mr. Bradley said there are other reviews already underway that are examining how the authorities conducted security operations during the summit. Mr. McMurtry's review will deal just "with the law itself," he said.

Under that mandate, Mr. McMurtry will have "a lot of breadth" in terms of what he can look at with the law.

Opposition leaders criticized the government for the patchwork approach to examining the G20 summit. The McGuinty government needs to be accountable for its actions, including passing a secret law, Progressive Conservative Leader Tim Hudak said.

"I want some heads to roll," Mr. Hudak told reporters on Wednesday. "Who made the call? Why did they lie to the public and why did they keep it a secret?"

New Democratic Party Leader Andrea Horwath called for a full public inquiry.

"The McMurtry initiative falls very short of what we need in terms of the G20 debacle," she told reporters. "This initiative is not going to get into who asked who to do what and who was making the decisions."

Ontario ombudsman Andre Marin is conducting a review of is own into the Public Works Protection Act; the Ontario Independent Police Review Director has launched an inquiry into police conduct after being inundated with hundreds of individual complaints in the weeks following the G20. Toronto's Police Services Board has launched its own independent review, the parameters and leader of which will be announced Thursday afternoon.

Mr. McMurtry is expected to report back in the spring.

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