Criticism of the government's handling of the protests at the recent G20 summit in Toronto is mounting. Concerns include not only the use by the Ontario Cabinet of the 1939 Public Works Protection Act to vastly extend police powers, but also the actual conduct of the police on the ground during the summit. Several groups have called for full pubic inquiries.
First was the decision by the Province of Ontario to use of the 70-year old Public Works Protection Act to extend police powers during the Toronto Summit. This 1939 wartime statute conferred special powers on guards of specifically designated public works (certain buildings and other sensitive facilities) giving them broad power to interrogate persons seeking access to these public works, or even just approaching them. This includes the power to search without warrant, to demand identification, and to arrest anyone not cooperating with these special powers. The measure was never revoked after the War, nor were its broad extension provisions limited, and so it has remained on the books into the Charter era. While the broad powers given to police under the Act were delimited to certain works, it also contained an extraordinary provision allowing its scope to be extended by order of the government, that is, without an amendment of its terms by Parliament.
On June 2nd, the Ontario cabinet promulgated Regulation 233/10, using this unusual regulatory provision to extend the definition of a “public work” to include the entire geographical area within the periphery of the security fence that had been arbitrarily delimited and erected for the summit. While passed on June 2nd, the regulation was not filed until June 14th, and was not posted to e-Laws until June 16th. It will not even be formally published in the Ontario Gazette until July 3rd (after it expires by its terms). This extraordinary measure was undertaken without parliamentary debate and without notice to the public and to the press. It was also passed at a time when the government knew that those interested in engaging in peaceful protests were actively engaged in getting training about their precise legal rights.
While the regulation itself lapsed by its terms on June 28th, the province must now undertake a critical review of the terms of the Public Works Protection Act itself with a view to amending its provisions to ensure future transparency and accountability in the law-making process. A measure of this severity should not be passed by Cabinet meeting under the cloak if secrecy and privilege, it should only be publicly considered by the Parliament itself. Provincial legislatures retain broad powers to override constitutional provisions in cases of emergency under the notwithstanding clause in the Charter, this extraordinary power should not be summarily exercised in secret, even if the regulation is temporary and geographically limited.
The Canadian Civil Liberties Association has taken the lead in calling attention to these issues. On June 25th, they sent a letter to Ontario Public Safety Minister Rick Bartolucci expressing concern about the passage and effect of Ontario Regulation 233/10 and they have subsequently issued statements about the use of excessive force by police, the poor conditions in the makeshift detention facility.
Other organizations are also weighing in about the events during the summit. Amnesty International has stated :
"... at a time when human rights need so very much to come to the fore, we have instead witnessed and experienced a curtailment of civil liberties. On the streets, protesters were faced with high fences, new weaponry, massive surveillance, and the intimidating impact of the overwhelming police presence. Combined with uncertainty and worry about unclear powers of arrest, this created an atmosphere in which countless individuals felt unable or too fearful to exercise their rights to freedom of expression and assembly and participate in rallies and other events which would have offered them an opportunity to express their views on a range of important national and international issues."
AI has called on the Canadian and Ontario governments cooperate in launching an independent review of the security measures that were put in place for the G8 and G20 Summits. They say the review should include opportunities for public input and the results should be released to the public. They say the review should review should consider the impact of the security measures as well as the ways in which the police operations and the use of the Public Works Protection Act have impacted the rights of people within and near the security zone.
The Ontario NDP has also called for a public inquiry to examine all the events during and leading up to the summits. They want this inquiry to provide "a formal mechanism for individual citizens to share their stories so that what happened in Toronto never happens again anywhere in Ontario or Canada." They are also calling on the federal government to compensate down businesses and workers who suffered economic loss as a result of the Summit. The federal NDP said it would ask the House of Commons’ standing committee on public safety and national security to prepare a “post-summit accountability report”.
The Canadian Journalists for Free Expression (CJFE) has also issued a statement expressing concern over the numerous reports of free expression violations and the detention of journalists during the G20 Summit weekend and they too are calling for a full review of the events and police response.
"Based on the facts available to us at this time, we're very disturbed by what appears to be overly aggressive tactics directed both at protestors and the media," said CJFE President, Arnold Amber. "When a major disturbance occurs in Canada's largest city, the role of the journalist is to inform the public. All accredited journalists had been vetted by security officials. There is no reason for them to have been detained or attacked while doing their work."
Later this morning, the Canadian Civil Liberties Association will be holding a press conference and releasing their preliminary conclusions on police conduct during the Summit.
[Update: Here is the CCLA interim report and its appendices].