By Doug Draper
In a toughly-worded, condemning report he released this December 7, Ontario Ombudsman Andre Marin concluded that the provincial government’s secret passage of a “relic” of a law that gave police “extravagant, sweeping powers triggered what amounted to martial law in downtown Toronto” during last June’s G20 summit.
The Liberal government’s enactment of the Public Works Protection Act this June, without any public disclosure or debate in the provincial legislature, set off what Marin also described as “the most massive compromise of civil liberties in Canadian history.” It resulted in “ugly scenes” and a “sad legacy” for city, the province and the country, he added at a media conference upon the report’s release, “and we can never let that happen again.”
Marin was of course speaking of the arrests of more than 1,000 people, the vast majority of them peaceful demonstrators, and the eyewitness accounts of police abuse at the G20 summit late this June.
The number of arrests – made virtually randomly in many cases and without granting those taken into custody the right to contact an attorney or even know what they were being arrested for – was the largest for any single event in the country. Most were released within two days without charges or any explanation from authorities about why they were detained.
The ombudsman’s key recommendation to the province, following a months-long investigation of security operations at the G20 summit, is to either “revise or replace” the Public Works Protection Act (more formally known as Regulation 233/10) and to fully inform the public in the event the government ever feels the need to ramp up the powers it gives to police again.
At the media conference, Marin described the act – the only one like it in any province in Canada – as a “civil right landmine left over from World War II” when governments of the day were in the mood to exercise extraordinary measures, if need be, to protect public infrastructure against enemies of war. It gives police forces powers to search and detain people that may, by today’s standards, be unconstitutional.
The McGuinty government’s decision, at a cabinet meeting prior to last June’s summit weekend to invoke it without informing the legislature or the public at large, combined with a statement Toronto Police Chief Bill Blair made later (when news of the cabinet decision leaked out) that the draconian powers would only apply to a five-metre zone outside a G20 summit security fence, proved to be a volatile mixture.
Marin said that unbeknown to thousands of people who came to Toronto to rally that weekend for better global environmental measures, and for other social justice issues, police forces applied the act to sites kilometers away, including areas government officials assured were “safe zones” for gathering to voice their interests and concerns.
“Peaceful protesters had no way of knowing they may be caught in the act of public entrapment,” Marin said, as he cited cases of city residents even being stopped to have their bags of groceries or other private possessions searched by police.
Niagara At Large has contacted Jim Bradley, St. Catharines MPP and the province’s Minister of Community Safety and Correction Services (a ministry he was appointed to after the G20 summit) for comment on Marin’s report and recommendations, and a spokesperson said he would contact NAL in the next few days.
In a recent article in the Toronto-based Globe and Mail, Bradley (who had by then been briefed on the contents of the ombudsman’s report) was quoted saying in a letter to Marin; “The ministry could have, and should have, handled the enactment of Regulation 233/10 better,” wrote Bradley. “In future, we will take greater care to ensure that the Ontario public is given more adequate notice of regulation changes of this nature.”
The province’s New Democratic Party has repeatedly called on the McGuinty government to hold an open and independent inquiry into the circumstances around security at the summit, but that is something the government has so far refused to do.
The leader of Ontario’s opposition Conservative Party, Tim Hudak, has not joined the call for an inquiry and last July in a column he wrote for The Toronto Sun that has been posted in Niagara At Large (who can find it by clicking on – https://niagaraatlarge.com/2010/07/10/who%E2%80%99s-to-blame-for-g20-violence/ ) focused on the actions of a few hundred violent protesters, known as the Black Bloc, and went on to say he “oppose(ed) the orchestrated attempt by these activists to demonize our police services in the wake of the G20 violence.
“I proudly stand behind the men and women of our police services that were faced with a daunting and difficult task of protecting the public against these professional vandals and hooligans.” There was no condemnation of police authorities in Hudak’s column for the numerous videotaped assaults by police and arrests of the vast majority of people who had no hand in the smashing of windows and other acts of violence.
One of those arrested and mentioned in Marin’s report was John Pruyn, a Thorold, Ontario resident and employee of Revenue Canada, who was arrested by police while sitting on the lawns of Queen’s Park during peaceful rallies there. Mr. Pruyn had an articial limb pulled off him by police before being taken into custody for more than a day without charges.
NAL includes the excerpt about him in the ombudsman’s report here – ”A number of the complainants who approached our Office gave dramatic first-hand accounts of their experiences with police over the G20 weekend. John Pruyn, a 57-year-old Revenue Canada employee from Thorold, Ontario, had come to Toronto to participate in Saturday’s labour march and rally.
Mr. Pruyn is an amputee and walks with the assistance of walking sticks. After participating in the march down University Ave., he returned to the designated speech area at Queen’s Park with his daughter, and sat down to rest. A few minutes later, police arrived, yelling; “Move!” He told us his daughter and two young men sitting next to him jumped up and tried to pull him to his feet, but he lost his balance and fell.
Mr. Pruyn’s daughter asked police to wait while she helped him up, explaining that he was an amputee. Suddenly he was face down on the ground with officers piled on top of him. When he was later unable to obey police commands to walk without the aid of his walking sticks, an officer grabbed his artificial leg and “yanked it off.”
He recalled the officer shoving the leg at him and telling him to put it back on. When he explained that he was unable to do so, he was dragged backwards to the paddy wagon. He claimed he was kicked several times, and heard officers say he was resisting arrest and in possession of a weapon.
He was searched and detained for several hours before he was released without charge. He told us police still have his glasses, walking sticks and $33 he had in his pocket when he was detained.”
You can review an online copy of Andre Marin’s report, ‘Caught In The Act’ by visiting http://www.ombudsman.on.ca and clicking on the title of the report on the home page.
(Visit Niagara At Large at http://www.niagaraatlarge.com for more news and commentary on matters of interest and concern to residents in our greater binational Niagara region.)