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The RCMP says they didn’t know that Chief Blair requested Public Works Protection Act, Blair says he did it on their advice

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PAUL JAY, SENIOR EDITOR, TRNN: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Paul Jay. One year ago this weekend, 2010, June 25, 26, 27, the Toronto G-20 took place and over 1,000 people were arrested. Hundreds, perhaps thousands more were, to quote the Ontario Ombudsman, “illegally detained”, that is, asked to show their ID or allow police to search themselves or their bags, under a law called the Public Works Protection Act. That act was meant in 1939 to protect public buildings from, probably, German assassins coming to knock off Canadian public officials. This piece of legislation was dusted off, dragged out, and given police extraordinary powers–search, seizure–essentially without probable cause. Who asked for this legislation has become a matter of some controversy. Now joining us to talk about just that controversy is Howard Morton. He’s a defense attorney. He joins us from Toronto. Thank you, Howard.


JAY: So Chief Blair, chief of the Toronto police force, has essentially taken all the heat for asking for the Public Works Protection Act. The provincial government has gotten kind of off the hook. They said, well, Chief Blair made us do this somehow. The RCMP that led the Integrated Security Unit that actually was the operational command of the whole weekend says they knew nothing about it. In the ombudsman’s report, he says they said to him they didn’t find out about it until it went public the night before, which seems a little preposterous to me. Any rate, Howard, what do you make of this controversy?

MORTON: Well, as you say, Paul, the official version is that Chief Blair, either with or without the approval of the Police Services Board, went directly to the provincial government over the heads of the Police Service Board, if they did not approve [crosstalk]

JAY: Well, let me add something to that, ’cause we interviewed Alok Mukherjee from the Police Services Board earlier today, and he says they did know about it, they agreed to it, and that it was their understanding the request had come from the Integrated Security Unit, from the ICU, led by the RCMP. So Alok Mukherjee and Chief Blair are both saying this came from the ISU, where the ombudsman was told by the RCMP they didn’t know anything about it.

MORTON: That’s right. And the official version is that Blair has taken the heat for having gone to the provincial government directly and asking for the regulation, he says, because he thought it was necessary both for security and public safety. But that explanation makes no sense, because if you look at his report from yesterday, you’ll see that there are five–.

JAY: He being Chief Blair.

MORTON: He being Chief Blair. There are five different levels of command centers. It appears that Chief Blair had very little or possibly nothing to do with any of those command centers. And they were led by the RCMP, and there was input from the OPP as well. So it doesn’t make any sense whatsoever, for on the one hand, the RCMP, and I believe also the OPP, took the position they didn’t think the regulation was necessary. And on the other hand, you have the ombudsman finding that they were denying any involvement with it, and Chief Blair taking the position that he went on his own. I think there’s–.

JAY: Hold on. Blair is not saying he went on his own. In the report that he just released this week, he says he asked for it based on the advice of the council to the Integrated Security Unit–again, led by the RCMP. So Blair and Mukherjee are on the same page, that this actually came from the ISU, which has to mean the RCMP, given that they’re the operational and strategic leaders of it all. But the RCMP’s telling the ombudsman they didn’t know anything about it.

MORTON: Right. Well, you’re right. Even Chief Blair refers to that unit as the RCMP-led, with a hyphen in there. And there’s no question that somebody must have known about it. It’s highly unusual for a chief of police in a city to go directly, with or without the approval of a police services board, and ask the premier of the province for enhanced police powers. And in addition to the ones you mentioned, the power to stop and to search, they had the power to demand that people give an account of why they were–the reason for being there and how long they were going to be there. And that’s something that’s sort of Kafka-like in my view.

JAY: Is this a definition–I mean, the ombudsman uses the term “martial law”, but it’s the definition of a police state. You could be stopped on the street, asked why and where you’re going, forced to show ID. I mean, it sounds like the German Stasi at work. Now–sorry. Go ahead, Howard.

MORTON: Well, what we read about in the Balkans years and years ago, on banana republics, I mean, it’s unimaginable that this would happen in a free and democratic society.

JAY: Now, there’s another piece to this. And I urge people to watch the interview I did with the Ontario ombudsman, Andre Marin. I asked him specifically about the RCMP telling him that they didn’t know anything, ’cause in his report he says it was actually kept secret until the eve of the event, and not even the RCMP or other police forces knew of it. Well, we found a document, we being The Real News. One of our researchers, Tim Gross, found a document that had been requested through the Freedom of Information Act which was a training manual from the Kitchener-Waterloo police force. And in that training manual, there’s pages about, guess what, the Public Works Protection Act, which is part of the training that the Kitchener-Waterloo police were being given before they came to join this massive police force in Toronto. So, Howard, I mean, is it within your imagination that Kitchener-Waterloo could have such a manual, and the RCMP, who is heading up this whole operation, don’t know about it?

MORTON: Absolutely not. There is no way, if you were having a coordinated police effort, that you would leave it up to each police force on its own to come up with a standard operating procedure or strategy. I believe that the document you have–and I compliment you for getting it–probably only the front page refers to the Kitchener-Waterloo police. I suspect that that document was provided to every police service that was going to have officers engage in Toronto on that weekend.

JAY: Which means the RCMP have to have known, which means essentially–I don’t know any other words for it–they either lied to the ombudsman, or the ombudsman isn’t correctly reporting what they told them. And I see no reason to think he would have done that. So it then begs the question or raises the question: why on earth is, first of all, not the rest of the media pursuing this issue of where did the orders come from? We did a story months ago called “Who Commanded the Commander”, where we followed the food chain. If you go from the RCMP, Alphonse MacNeil, who was the chief superintendent in charge of the Integrated Security Unit, who reports to the chief of the RCMP, who reported directly to the Privy Council, and a guy named Elcock, who was on the Privy Council, who used to run CSIS for, I think, close to a decade–and the Privy Council reports to who? The prime minister. No one’s picking up this thread, and they’re leaving it at Blair, even though Blair’s clearly saying–as quietly as he can, but saying that it wasn’t him, it wasn’t his idea to do it.

MORTON: Well, he said he did it on the advice of the RCMP-led unit.

JAY: Well, advice of the council to the Integrated Security Unit. Right.

MORTON: Right. I think Chief Blair in many ways is trying to be the good soldier here. As you know, there will not be a federal public inquiry, so we will never know the role that the RCMP played in this whole weekend. Similarly, there will not be a provincial public inquiry, so we’ll never know the role that the OPP played. And my view is that they both played, particularly the RCMP, a very significant role in deciding how the police were going to conduct themselves on that weekend.

JAY: Well, it makes one wonder why Blair’s taking this position. He was asked today by The Globe and Mail, or I should–at least it’s printed in today’s Globe and Mail–whether any commands during those three days came from any other police forces, and he said he didn’t know, ’cause he wasn’t in the actual Toronto downtown operational center. It seems–again, doesn’t make any sense. I mean, we know he probably wasn’t there. We’ve heard many reports that he didn’t go until Sunday night to actually stop the kettling from taking place. But he’s had a year to ask his deputies: by the way, did you get any commands from Barrie, which was the command center run by the RCMP? One thinks by now he should know.

MORTON: He’s choosing not to know the answer. It’s plausible deniability on his part, as far as I’m concerned. And similarly with the provincial and federal government: they don’t want a public inquiry, because they don’t want to know how many dirty hands there are in–both provincially and federally, that were involved in this. And my own view is that Chief Blair’s being the good soldier. He’s taking all the heat. He’s the chief of Toronto, where the G-20 took place. But there’s much more to this story. And I think following your finding of that particular training manual, I think you’ll find that other media outlets–and I know the Law Union, of which I’m a member, is certainly going to take up the charge on that.

JAY: I suppose for Chief Blair it’ll be a little embarrassing to say, oh, I wasn’t in control of my own city; some other police force commander is the one that screwed it up. So I suppose in terms of his own dignity he has to take this position, ’cause under the actual laws of Ontario, it’s his responsibility to be doing this, not somebody else’s. I don’t know, actually, how he became subordinate to the ISU. Is that actually legal in Ontario?

MORTON: I don’t think it is. When we made submissions (we being the Law Union) to the Police Services Board, I took the position that any police officer from anywhere, United States or Canada, who is engaging in police activities within the jurisdiction of Toronto is responsible to the chief of police and responsible to the Police Services Board. And when I made that submission, most of the members of the board just sort of smirked as if they didn’t want to hear any more about that.

JAY: Well, I’m going to make a sort of editorial comment here, which I suppose, strictly speaking, if this was just narrow journalism, I shouldn’t make. But if some day in the future Chief Blair either runs politically for the Conservative Party or gets a federal appointment, I think we’re going to have to look back on these days, ’cause perhaps he is being a good soldier, but perhaps there’s some other issues here, because it doesn’t make sense that he seems to be so intent on cooperating with the RCMP in, you know, cloaking their very central and controlling role. Before the G-20, Alphonse MacNeil, who was the superintendent of the RCMP in charge, was actually bragging about how the RCMP was running all of this. Now, afterwards, it’s as if they weren’t there.

MORTON: That’s right.

JAY: Thanks very much for joining us, Howard.

MORTON: [crosstalk] we keep track of this, whether Chief Blair gets a federal appointment or not. We can’t let this go.

JAY: Thanks for joining us.

MORTON: Thank you.

JAY: And thank you for joining us on The Real News Network.

End of Transcript

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Howard Morton is a criminal lawyer and a member of the Law Union of Ontario