Police get special arrest powers for duration of G20
There is a heavy security presence in downtown Toronto as protesters gear up for more G20 marches this weekend, angered by new police powers which were passed quietly by the Ontario government.
Critics have compared the new regulation to Canada's War Measures Act, while police say the law is a preventative measure aimed at keeping the public safe.
Earlier in the day, locals spending time in Queen's Park -- about two kilometres from the security perimeter -- were searched by police officers.
Tarah Hodgkins said the officers told her that it was within the law to ask for identification and to search her belongings.
"They enacted the public works law and said that they are basically searching anyone who is walking through the park," she said.
Nick McNight, who was also searched, echoed concerns that the police powers were unbecoming of a democratic country.
"I think that a lot of Canadians have the illusion of freedom, but it's really been taken away," he said.
The new regulation temporarily alters the Public Works Protection Act to designate the entire security perimeter surrounding Toronto's convention Centre as a "public works" site during the summit. The Act usually covers provincial and municipal buildings, as well as public utilities.
The extension of the act under the regulation allows police to ask anyone within five metres of the perimeter to identify themselves or be searched.
Police chief defends law
A combative Toronto police Chief Bill Blair defended the law to the media Friday, saying the change was not "secretive." He said that while the media was not informed, the changes to the law were published online on June 16 and the new regulation could have been searched on Google.
Blair said he asked the province for the new regulation several months ago because he wanted a clear articulation of the law because he thought protest organizations might challenge police authority under Common Law.
He said a citizen has a right not to identify themselves and they are free to leave the restricted area around the fencing. However, officers may arrest the person if they appear to be causing a problem and do not leave the area.
Responding to news of the regulation, the Toronto Community Mobilization Network slammed police for not making the new provision public sooner.
"This act values public property over the freedom of people," the TCMN said in a statement.
New rules expire on June 28
Anyone convicted under the provisions of the act could face up to two months in jail or a $500 maximum fine.
The regulations were passed earlier this month by provincial cabinet using what is known as a "covering" order-in-council. The changes were not debated in the Legislature.
The regulation is written so that it took effect on Monday and will be revoked June 28, the day after the summit.
The law appeared on the province's e-Law website last week, but won't be officially published until July 3 -- by which time, the regulation will have expired.
The Canadian Civil Liberties Association said in a media statement that it "is obviously extremely concerned about the implications of this measure" and says it will seek to challenge the regulation.
Civil rights lawyer Paul Cavalluzzo said the regulations were not publicized in a fair and transparent way and would have been challenged in court if there was more time to do so.
"These regulations . . . are clearly contrary to the Charter of Rights," he told CTV News Channel.
NDP MPP Peter Kormos is furious with the new regulation, saying Blair's defence of the new regulation is "wrong."
He said the legislation was meant to protect public works, like water works or energy generating plants, and the new regulation is overreaching.
Kormos also had strong words for the Dalton McGuinty government, saying MPPs allowed themselves to be strong-armed into doing the police's bidding.
"There were no opportunities for parliamentarians to dispute this," he told CTV News Channel. "This should be very disturbing to all Ontarians.
"This is wacky stuff. It belongs in Kafka novels, not in Ontario."
There are already regulations in place that give police the authority to question anybody inside the restricted zone, from June 14 until June 28. Const. Tim Garland, spokesperson for the Integrated Security Unit, says anyone walking in that zone can be stopped and questioned.
Ontario Provincial Police Chief Julian Fantino said that the measure was a "preventative" one that will protect the leaders, the public, the protesters and police.
"This is not a sneak attack approach on the part of police," he told CTV's Power Play from Huntsville, Ont.
"It has a very limited life, if you will," he added. "It all expires on the twenty-eighth of June."