|Police charge into a crowd of G20 protesters in this June 27 file photo. (CRAIG ROBERTSON/QMI Agency)
TORONTO - TORONTO - Torontonians were effectively placed under martial law during the G20 Summit, says Ontario ombudsman Andre Marin.
The provincial government's decision to secretly invoke an obscure 1939 war measures law to give police extreme powers to detain, search and arrest people was likely unconstitutional and unnecessary, Marin says in his report, Caught in the Act, which was released Tuesday.
Toronto police also exceeded the unusual powers granted by the Public Works Protection Act regulation, using it inappropriately to stop and search possibly thousands of citizen across the downtown core in violation of their Charter rights, he said.
"For the citizens of Toronto, the days up to and including the weekend of the G20 will live in infamy as a time period where martial law set in the City of Toronto leading to the most massive compromise of civil liberties in Canadian history," Marin said. "And we can never let that happen again."
The now infamous Regulation 233 was quietly passed by the Dalton McGuinty government at the direct request of Toronto Police Chief Bill Blair in the days leading up to the June summit.
"Regulation 233's ground zero was in Chief Blair's office. No other police agency wanted anything to do with this police regulation," he said.
Ignoring warnings from his own staff that the legislation might be problematic, then Community Safety Minister Rick Bartolucci agreed to the regulation, the report says.
The ministry made a conscious decision not to publicize the rule, essentially "entrapping" protesters who were unaware that their legal rights had changed dramatically, Marin said.
"Aside from a coterie of senior officials in government and the Toronto Police Service, no one else was aware of the existence of this regulation or the fact that it would trigger what amounted to martial law in downtown Toronto," he said.
Blair, speaking after someone had already been arrested for approaching the fence, told the media at the beginning of the summit that the law gave officers the right to search and arrest anyone who came within five metres of that structure.
It was only after the weekend had passed that it became clear the public had been misinformed and that the rule only applied within the fence.
Marin said he got "zero co-operation" from the police chief who said no to interviews on behalf of himself and his officers.
The Toronto Police Services Board issued a statement saying it expects lawful and professional conduct from its officers.
"The Board has confidence in Chief Blair's commitment to upholding, at all times, the professional standards and core values of the service," the statement says.
Community Safety Minister Jim Bradley, who was shuffled into the position after the G20 summit, said the government should have been more clear in notifying the public about Regulation 233.
The Public Works Protection Act is currently being reviewed by retired Chief Justice Roy McMurtry, and he expects that changes to the law will be recommended.
Marin has told the government that it should rewrite or drop the act and take further steps to prevent similar abuses.
NDP Leader Andrea Horwath said it's clear a public inquiry is needed to get at all the issues raised by the G20 Summit.
PC Leader Tim Hudak said Bartolucci, who's still in McGuinty's cabinet, should be fired.
McGuinty said Tuesday that he had not read Marin's report but his government has welcomed and implemented the ombudsman's recommendations in the past.