Friday, June 25, 2010


As most people around the world know the G8 and G20 summits are taking place this weekend in Ontario. There has been well over a billion dollars spent on security for this event. I'm not going to comment on that other than that I am quite confused how it can cost many tens of times more than security for other summits. I know it will be expensive and when you start talking in the tens or hundreds of millions of dollars numbers don't mean very much.

Anyways that is a separate issue, what I am venting about the implementation of the Public Works Protection Act as well as parts of the act itself. The entire text can be found here but the relevant parts are as follows:

Powers of guard or peace officer

3.A guard or peace officer,

(a) may require any person entering or attempting to enter any public work or any approach thereto 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;

(b) may search, without warrant, any person entering or attempting to enter a public work or 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; and

(c) 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. R.S.O. 1990, c. P.55, s. 3

And the definition of public works is:

“public work” includes,

(a) any railway, canal, highway, bridge, power works including all property used for the generation, transformation, transmission, distribution or supply of hydraulic or electrical power, gas works, water works, public utility or other work, owned, operated or carried on by the Government of Ontario or by any board or commission thereof, or by any municipal corporation, public utility commission or by private enterprises,

(b) any provincial and any municipal public building, and

(c) any other building, place or work designated a public work by the Lieutenant Governor in Council. (“ouvrage public”) R.S.O. 1990, c. P.55, s. 1.

Some of this is rather non-controversial. I think most people would agree that a man with his face covered and a backpack on shouldn't be given free access to a municipal building or power station. The last sentence I quoted however I find rather shocking. It basically means that the Ontario government can declare any place in the province as being under this act and thereby waiving your rights to unreasonable search and seizure, your right to not have to identify yourself while walking on public property and curtailing your freedom of movement.

So now within 5 metres of the G20 fencing that is now dominating Toronto this act now applies where it did not before. In early June the Ontario government designated the 5m zone without making a public announcement. It is due to appear in writing July 3rd, after the summit, but available online now. This is ridiculous on a few counts. Secretly changing a law in how the public deals with police is counter-productive from every angle. A man was arrested after he refused to identify himself, the police apparently did tell him a new law was in force but frankly until police can get in serious trouble for lying there is very good reason to be skeptical of such claims. It should have been announced at least a month before so that lawyers will relay these changes to protesters and the public at large who ask and there should be signs on every fence declaring that your rights will be reduced if you are within the zone. Not doing this will create anger and fuel contempt against the police making their jobs harder.

Curtailing rights guaranteed to us by our Charter shouldn't be an issue taken lightly. The police chief said, correctly I may add, that this wasn't new legislation it was using the old Public Works Act. I'm not a lawyer and I won't comment on the legality of the entire act but frankly that is besides the point. What the province did was arbitrarily post a limit where our constitutional rights weaken. Of course we need to have limits on certain freedoms. But doing this in secret I consider to be abhorrent. How far could they have gone? Could they have said 10 or 20 metres? Entire streets? Neighbourhoods? This should have been a public matter and elected officials should have had to have their names behind it.

More arguments could be made for and against the morality and legality of what the legislature did but I think we should all say, with one voice, that we don't want our Charter Right's violated in secret in the name of a security threat. It is an old argument but very valid, if we blindly give up freedoms at the first sign of trouble we really don't have them.

I'm not here saying "police state Gestapo Nazi's are coming to arrest you if you disagree with Harper". If that were the case it would be a more clear-cut fight. Instead we have a more subtle creep of civil liberties being traded for 'security'. As a society we need authorities to be able to execute search warrants, arrest people with evidence, not smoking gun proof, but these infringements of personal freedom are done in the open with oversight. If we give police these sort of powers you have to expect they will use them to their fullest extent. As citizens we cannot count on discretion, especially when parts of the act allow the word of the police to be treated as fact under oath. Look at the newspaper, the RCMP officers (or at least some of them) are right now being accused of lying during the investigation of Robert Dziekanski's death. Police are people, they are generally good but they make mistakes and are now under psychological pressures and constant stress.

Bottom line, I find parts of this act very questionable but what really offends me is that this act is able to reduce our civil liberties and arrest people for expressing them, totally unaware of that change. I would like to blame it partly on incompetence in government but I don't think the evidence points that way. It points to a mob-mentality in police leadership who have been given a blank cheque in resources, both financial and in their conduct.

This doesn't come close North Korea or the former USSR but it is still so very wrong.

UPDATE: Here is a letter sent by the CCLA to Hon. Rick Bartolucci

1 comment:

  1. I am not a lawyer, but I would think that he Public Works Protection Act is invalid where it removes Charter rights. The doctrine of paramountcy would make the Ontario statute ultra vires because it would conflict with the Charter (i.e, if it presented a situation where you couldn't follow one law without violating the other).
    Just my 2 cents.