How the law on the summit security fence was misinterpreted is shrouded in confusion
From Friday's Globe and Mail Published on Thursday, Jul. 01, 2010 7:36PM EDT Last updated on Thursday, Jul. 01, 2010 7:40PM EDT
The story around a G20 security regulation quietly passed by the Ontario government has continually changed.
Both the province and Toronto police now acknowledge there was no rule that people merely passing by the summit’s security fence were required to submit to searches and identification checks, and could be arrested if they failed to comply. But how the law was misinterpreted by police, and why the public was allowed to believe until the summit’s conclusion that it was still being enforced, remains shrouded in confusion.
What follows is a timeline of the secret law that wasn’t, taking into account the recent revelation that police were finally told by the province – after at least a couple of arrests – that they were wrongly interpreting the regulation they themselves had asked for.
June 2: On the request of Toronto Police Chief Bill Blair, Dalton McGuinty's cabinet approves a temporary regulation affecting the Public Works Protection Act. Its aim is to ensure that police are legally authorized to search and demand identification of anyone attempting to enter the security perimeter in downtown Toronto during the G20 summit. There is no announcement.
June 16: The regulation is quietly posted on the government's e-Laws website, but passes unnoticed. (It's not slated to be published in the Ontario Gazette until July 3.)
June 22: When explicitly asked by The Globe and Mail which laws provide for the security measures taken during the G20, two spokespeople for the Integrated G20 Security Unit – including at least one member of the Toronto police – fail to mention the Public Works Protection Act.
June 24: The regulation first comes to light, as at least two activists are arrested under the Public Works Protection Act. Neither appears to have been trying to enter the perimeter. In both cases, police cite a rule that extends their identification and search powers to five metres outside the security fence.
June 25: It's widely reported that, under the provincial regulation, individuals passing by up to five metres outside the security fence can be arrested by police if they fail to show identification or consent to a search. (The regulation, on first glance, appears to confirm this power.)
June 25: At a news conference, Chief Blair says, “The five-metre zone around the fence is for the protection of the security barrier.”
June 25: In an interview, Mr. McGuinty seems to confirm a major change to the law by referring to “something extraordinary happening inside our province,” while affirming his faith in Chief Blair.
June 25: Police realize they'd misinterpreted the regulation, and the “five metres” actually refers to an area inside the fence. (It’s later reported that it was the province that informed them – see below.)
June 26-27: Despite continued media coverage of the “five-metre” rule, no attempt is made by either the province or the police to make clear that it doesn't exist. As a result, Torontonians and visitors remain under the impression that they can be arrested just for passing by the security fence without identification.
June 27: To counter complaints that Ontarians weren't made aware of the new law, the government directs reporters to an advertisement taken out by Toronto police in some newspapers prior to the summit. The ad, titled “What you need to know about the G20 Summit,” makes no mention of the Public Works Protection Act, any recent provincial decisions, or a five-metre rule.
June 28: When contacted, the Premier’s Office discusses the five-metre rule without indicating that it didn't actually exist.
June 29: Chief Blair acknowledges that the five-metre rule never existed, but hints that he didn't correct the record because he “was trying to keep the criminals out.”
June 29: When asked by The Globe and Mail whether any action was taken by the government to get police to stop wrongly enforcing the regulation, a provincial spokesperson responds: “The application of the regulation over the weekend was operational in nature, and we do not interfere in police operational decisions.” The spokesperson also insists “the language of the regulation is very clear.”
June 29: Another government official acknowledges that the regulation was “confusing,” but says that – despite contradictory video evidence – the government does not believe there were any arrests under the non-existent rule.
June 30: The Police Services Board tells The Globe and Mail that, in fact, it was the province that informed police on June 25 – following the arrests – that the regulation was being wrongly interpreted.
That, at least, is the version of events as it currently stands. Given the number of times that the official accounts have shifted over the past week, it may well change again before long.