FYI: G20 Police given extra powers

Police have been granted more powers to search, detain and arrest people in and around Toronto's downtown G20 security zone, a move the Canadian Civil Liberties Association calls "dire".

Most of these powers contradict constitutional safeguards, the rights group says.

Under the Ontario Public Works Protection Act, the area inside and within five metres of the security perimeter has been designated as a "public work" for the duration of the G20 summit.

The regulation, which was published online June 16, took effect June 21 and will be revoked June 28, the day after the summit ends.

Its existence became known only after the detention of several climate activists at a march today. Protesters were toldthat the security squad policing the area near the fence has special powers that overrule the rights to freedom of expression and assembly that they thought they had.

The Ontario Movement Defence Committee, an organization that provides legal support to Toronto activists, released a statement shortly after 5 p.m., saying the regulation gives police officers:

"... the power to require anyone entering or attempting to enter or approaching the public work 'to furnish his or her name and address, to identify himself or herself and to state the purpose for which he or she desires to enter the public work, in writing or otherwise'.

"The police may also 'search, without warrant, any person entering or attempting to enter a public work'. The police can also search 'a vehicle in the charge or under the control of any such person or which has recently been or is suspected of having been in the charge or under the control of any such person or in which any such person is a passenger'.

"Finally, the police 'may refuse permission to any person to enter a public work and use such force as is necessary to prevent any such person from so entering'.

"Police may arrest, without warrant 'any person who neglects or refuses to comply with a request or direction of a guard or peace officer, or who is found upon or attempting to enter a public work without lawful authority.'

"Neglecting or refusing 'to comply with a request or direction made under this Act by a guard or peace officer' or if you are a person found upon a public work or any approach thereto without lawful authority means you could be found guilty of an offence and be liable to a fine of not more than $500 or to imprisonment for a term of not more than two months, or to both."

This evening the Canadian Civil Liberties Association reacted with alarm, saying in a statement it "is obviously extremely concerned about the implications of this measure and will seek to challenge them."

It warned: "The new designation changes dramatically the advice that lawyers may have been providing to protesters or the general public if they find themselves [in] the proximity of the fenced area."

In an interview, the association's general counsel criticized the secretive manner in which the regulation was brought into play.

"The process for this designation was not transparent," Nathalie Des Rosiers said. "It seemed to have been designed so that nobody knew about it."

The application for the regulation was filed June 2. The regulation will not be printed in The Ontario Gazette, the publication that records the province’s legal notices, until July 3 — after it has expired.

Des Rosiers could not name any previous occasion when these unusual powers had been given to police.

"As of now, we don't know of any time when this power [has been] exercised under this act."

OPP Const. Tim Garland, a spokesman for the Integrated Security Unit, said the new rules are in the interests of "security".

“If you’re walking down the street in your neighbourhood, there is no requirement for you to identify yourself to police. There’s no obligation to cooperate,” he said. “This gives police special authority to ask for ID.

“If we don’t have search authority, how are we to do our job?”

The allowance of searches and arrests without warrants doesn’t contradict the spirit of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, he said.

“Within the Charter of Rights, there are certain balancing provisions. If [someone] can prove that it’s for the greater good, then the violation of charter rights are upheld in the courts.”

Garland said public works regulations are sometimes used to control access to government institutions, courthouses  and construction sites. He said he didn’t know whether this type of regulation is generally enacted as a temporary or permanent measure.

“We’re not the ones passing these statutes. These statutes are passed by a democratically elected government. Governments are elected by the people; the people have given us the right to do this.

“We don’t make the law, we're the ones enforcing it.

“If it’s serving the public good, yeah, it's a violation of the Charter, but it's a necessary violation. That’s the beauty of the charter, it’s a living document."