Toronto G-20: Will Police be Held Accountable After Scathing Ombudsman’s Report?
TRNN Replay: Paul Jay: If use of "martial law" was illegal, are most arrests at G-20 also illegal?
PAUL JAY, SENIOR EDITOR, TRNN: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Paul Jay. Last month, December 7, Ontario Ombudsman Andre Marin issued a report called Caught in the Act. And he wasn’t talking about some common criminals; he was talking about the Metro Toronto police force.
ANDRE MARIN, OMBUDSMAN OF ONTARIO: My investigation focused on the province’s role in promoting what became known as the secret security regulation, a little known and widely misunderstood legal measure that was supposed to help the police keep the peace, but in my view wound up contributing to massive violations of civil rights.
JAY: The ombudsman was talking about a piece of legislation called the Ontario Public Works Protection Act. And the Regulation 233/10 under this 71-year-old Public Works Protection Act was, quote, "of dubious legality and of no utility." Let’s remember that, "dubious legality".
MARIN: And for the citizens of Toronto, the days up to and including the weekend of the G-20 will live in infamy as a time period where martial law set in the city of Toronto, leading to the most massive compromise of civil liberties in Canadian history.
JAY: During the G-20 protest, a massive police presence descended on Toronto. And according to Marin, the police force invoked the Public Works Protection Act to strip protesters and other Torontonians of their normal rights.
MARIN: Reviving this dormant piece of legislation, coupled with the adoption of the regulation, created a legal landscape where people were detained by the police and compelled to identify themselves, answer questions, and submit to warrantless searches even if they simply wanted to walk away.
JAY: Although the Public Works Protection Act has been on the books for decades, in order to put it into use the province quietly introduced a regulation that declared not only the convention center where the world leaders were meeting and the surrounding roads and government buildings as Public Works, but also three sections of security fence as Public Works as well. The regulation said that police powers would extend 5 meters inside the fence, but Toronto’s police chief, Bill Blair, made an announcement declaring that police powers extended 5 meters outside the fence.
MARIN: Many of you will remember the added confusion when the Toronto police chief and some of his officers described the regulation as, quote, "a five-meter rule". Some of you reported about it. But there was no five-meter rule. And even when this was corrected, police continued to harass and search people well beyond the security zone.
JAY: Marin singled out Chief Blair in his report, calling him ground zero for a regulation that was sold to the province, but also saying that he refused to cooperate at all in his investigation.
MARIN: The chief refused us access to those officers. And then, again, subsequently, on August 26, we asked the chief to interview him, because we wanted to know what his understanding was of this regulation and what instructions he passed on to the force, the Toronto Police Service, and again we were refused cooperation.
JAY: Marin believes that the regulation quietly passed by the province triggered the police not only to use these powers within the defined area but to extend these powers well beyond it.
MARIN: Now, let’s be clear. The ministry at one point said, you know, we could have been–we could have done better in the communication of the regulation. Well, you’re darn right you could have done better. There was a premeditated, conscious, planned decision not to announce the existence of the regulation or the reviving of this wartime act, this relic. The government essentially poked a hibernating bear, woke it up, and they didn’t want the public to know. You know, the government, the ministry had its website. City of Toronto had a website. The Integrated Security Unit had websites, had ads in the paper warning about street closures, things that were going to happen. Was there any, at one point, mention that the police had a right, according to a 1939 law, to arbitrarily detain citizens kilometers away from the fence, to search their belongings, and to force them to identify themselves? No. At any time, there was not. And that was a conscious, premeditated decision by the authorities.
JAY: The ombudsman report says not only was the public not informed of the passing of this act, that the RCMP, the OPP, and other police agencies involved in the G-20 didn’t know, either, until it was announced in the media.
MARIN: Apart from a coterie of senior officials in government and the Toronto Police Service, no one else was aware of the existence of this regulation for the fact that it would trigger what amounted to martial law in downtown Toronto.
JAY: One has to believe that the ombudsman was told this by the OPP and the RCMP, but it’s a little difficult to believe. The Integrated Security Unit that the Toronto Police and the OPP and other agencies involved in policing the G-20 were part of was headed by Alphonse MacNeil, the chief superintendent of the RCMP, who answered to Ward Elcock of the Privy Council–Privy Council, of course, answers to the prime minister. It’s very difficult to believe that Chief Blair on his own goes to the premier of Ontario and asks for such a piece of legislation. But at any rate, this is what the various agencies said to him. And there’s now direct evidence that other police agencies in fact were well aware of the Public Works Protection Act. A document obtained by The Real News shows that at least one other police force was well aware the act would be invoked. A series of slides accompanied by rough notes shows how officers of the Waterloo police force were trained for the G-20 protest. Several pages are dedicated to the Public Works Protection Act, and a copy of the Act was included for officers to read. One slide in particular reveals that police were given advance notice that a regulation would be passed under the Act, and that they were trained incorrectly on where their special powers applied. The slide lists a series of security zones: the Controlled Access Zone, which applied to the convention center were where world leaders were meeting; the Restricted Access Zone, which included the hotels where world leaders would be staying; the Interdiction Zone, which applied to everywhere inside the fence; and another zone called the Outer Zone–however, it’s unclear whether this referred to the Traffic Control Zone or to all areas in Toronto that lay outside the fence. The slide says that the Outer Zone will be designated a public work, and while this informed Waterloo officers the public works designation would be used, it misinformed them on which areas would be designated under the Public Works Protection Act. The regulation didn’t apply to anywhere outside the fence. It’s very difficult to believe that the Waterloo police force is given a training document that clearly spells out the use of the Public Works Protection Act and the RCMP, OPP, and the representative at the Privy Council are not aware of such a thing. The report Caught in the Act ends with a series of recommendations. One calls for the act to be revised or replaced and safeguards to be put in place to stop similar abuses in the future. These recommendations have been accepted by former Ontario chief justice Roy McMurtry, who was asked by the provincial government to review the Act and report to them next spring. The proposal to revise or repeal this act is an obvious recommendation that one would think the people of Ontario would expect. But there’s perhaps something more important, and this was missing in the ombudsman’s report, and that’s a question of accountability. Let’s hear again some of the words of the ombudsman: it was "opportunistic and inappropriate" to use the Public Works Protection Act, a "war measure" that allows "extravagant police authority" to arrest and search people in the name of protecting public works; "… here, in 2010, is the province of Ontario conferring wartime powers on police officers in peacetime. That is a decision that should not have been taken lightly, or kept shrouded in secrecy, particularly not in the era of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms." Even though only two people were arrested directly under the Public Works Protection Act, the ombudsman said clearly the importance of the Act was that it created an environment, a culture, that police believe had extended their power well beyond the fences of the convention center. This suggests that many of the thousand arrests, if not all of them, were of "dubious legality", to use the ombudsman’s words. That also means the use of force, the use of clubbing, running over people with horses, demanding identification and searching people’s person without warrants, the detention of over 1,000 people in degrading circumstances, snatching people off the streets and throwing them into vans, all of this may be illegal. So if that’s the case, the real question here is: will there be any accountability?
End of Transcript
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