By Daniel Tencer | June 30, 2010 - 10:59 am - Posted in Antics and Pedantics

The official story on the “secret” expansion of the Public Works Protection Act has changed. The Star now reports that the law’s expansion applied only to the area inside the fence, not within five meters of the fence, as had been reported.

“The point is, those mass arrests in the streets of Toronto that occurred during the summit were under the authority of the Criminal Code, not the so-called sweeping powers that actually don’t exist,” the Star quotes provincial government spokeswoman Laura Blondeau.

This is somewhat misleading. First of all, it’s not that they “don’t exist” — their limits were not properly explained.

Secondly, this is not actually a surprise. Since it was understood that the law applied only within five meters of the fence, and most of the arrests took place nowhere near the fence, they obviously didn’t take place under that power. Until Laura Blondeau denied it, I hadn’t thought that anyone was making that claim.

As for the arrests taking place “under the authority of the Criminal Code,” perhaps someone could explain to me where in the Criminal Code it says you can be arrested for the crime of crossing Spadina at Queen. I don’t recall the Emergencies Act being invoked. But then again, given how much information the government has been offering us with regards to changes to the law … who knows?

There is (at least) one other question here: If the law didn’t apply anywhere outside the fence, then how did Dave Vasey get arrested under that law, outside the fence?

Maybe it had something to do with the chief of police himself seemingly believing that this law applied outside the fence.

“The information I was given when I was first advised of the regulation is that it pertained to an area of five metres outside the perimeter of the fence,” Blair said Tuesday.

“Once that information was clarified to us, we immediately notified all of our officers by a directive about the appropriate application of that regulation.”

Wow. So who misled whom? Did the provincial cabinet mislead Blair about the scope of the temporary powers? Did Blair mislead the public when he needed to explain an unjustified arrest? Or was it just a big misunderstanding — so big, in fact, that one has to question the competence of these people?

The message coming out of Queen’s Park and the police is very strange and frankly I’m not sure I believe any of it. They told us one thing when they needed to justify an arrest; they told us another when the initial explanation got a worse reception than the arrest itself.

It’s amazing what a total pig’s breakfast our officials have made of this whole thing. I doubt this story is over.

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By Daniel Tencer | June 29, 2010 - 1:44 pm - Posted in Antics and Pedantics

Protesters at Spadina and College, Chinatown, June 26, 2010.

G20 protest in Chinatown, Toronto, June 26.Toronto police chief Bill Blair and Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty are in trouble, and they know it.

Toronto police chief Bill Blair and Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty are in trouble, and they know it.

How do I know that they know they’re in trouble? Because of the words coming out of their mouths.

This morning chief Blair held a press conference where he paraded weapons seized from protesters at G20 demonstrations and referred to the vandals who smashed windows and set cop cars alight as “terrorists.”

They were “thugs” on Saturday; now they’re “terrorists.” You know you’re in trouble when you find yourself smearing your opponents with the “terrorist” label.

Let’s put this in some perspective. As Graham F. Scott points out at This Magazine, four police cars were torched in Toronto during the G20; by comparison, sixteen police cars were torched in Montreal in 2008 after the Habs beat the Boston Bruins.

(That’s right, people. Canadians are more violent after a hockey game than they are during a G20 summit. That actually makes sense to me…)

Interestingly, Montreal didn’t respond to those riots by sending twenty thousand police officers into the streets to beat up journalists, arrest passersby and observers (including a mayoral candidate), trample protesters under horse hooves and cordon off some one hundred or more people in the middle of an intersection in the rain for hours — some of whom weren’t even protesters, just people crossing the street.

And Montreal police didn’t respond by putting the arrested in cages, denying them food and water, and then releasing them without charge in what would amount to the largest mass arrests in Canadian history, and in the history of the G8 and G20 summits. Not even the riots in Seattle at the WTO summit in 1999 resulted in such a huge arrest rate.

Those who witnessed some of what went on in Toronto last weekend, and even those who were simply following the summit protests on the news, know what they saw. At this point, we’ve heard far more allegations of crime committed by the police than by the vandals.

Will the police be held to account? Not if Bill Blair has anything to say about it. He’s now fighting the “war on terror” against rock-throwing vandals and God help anyone who gets in his way. If Blair is at all typical of a Canadian police chief, his goal now is to ensure that not one police officer is held to account for beating innocent people, not one police officer is held to account for false arrest — most of all himself. That’s what the press conference was about; that’s why he just threw out the word “terrorist.”

But things are even worse at Queen’s Park, where a provincial government spokeswoman insisted the secret change made to Ontario’s Public Works Protection Act, to allow police to arrest anyone who doesn’t identify themselves within five metres of the G20 perimeter fence, was actually no change at all.

“There were no extra powers granted to police for G20. As we stated repeatedly the regulation was about defining property, not police power,” Laura Blondeau, an aide to Community Safety Minister Rick Bartolucci, told the Star.

That’s some pretty spicy verbal acrobatics there, Laura. You didn’t give police new powers — you just changed the definition of “government building” to include a vast chunk of downtown Toronto. And you did this with no public announcement, without a debate in the legislature, so that it would change absolutely nothing. Sure, that makes sense.

Both McGuinty and Blair smell embarrassing and costly civil-rights lawsuits on the wind. Some of these suits are likely to go all the way to the Supreme Court, and the irony of McGuinty’s devious little “alteration” to the law is that it has drawn attention to the very existence of this law, which allows police to arrest anyone who doesn’t identify themselves in a government building. And I wouldn’t be surprised if the whole thing resulted in that law, which has been on the books since 1939, being severely curtailed by the Supreme Court.

So, to sum up, the whole effort to justify one billion dollars in taxpayer expenses for a summit that was little more than a vacuous parade for world leaders and addle-minded anarchists has just blown up in the faces of the people who wasted that money.

As an afterthought, I’d like to add this: Watching Blair’s press conference this morning, it became clear (if it wasn’t already) that the presence of vandals and their weapons at the G20 is a public-relations Godsend to the police. And that leads me to think about that indelible image of a police car on fire at the corner of King and Bay Saturday afternoon.

That car was set on fire sometime around 4 p.m.; the fire was put out and the car hauled away around 6:30 p.m. Is it really possible that, in the midst of the largest security operation in Toronto’s history, they couldn’t get a fire truck to a major downtown intersection for two-and-a-half hours?

Yet when protesters emerged from a sewer near the Eaton Centre, the police were on the scene and arresting the sewer rats within two minutes. So why was the police car allowed to burn for so long? Did it have anything to do with the fact that, as TV stations from coast to coast broadcast images of the burning police car, police were busy busting up peaceful protests and arresting innocent people?

That’s one of the right questions to ask about all this. Which is exactly why — as politicians and police bureaucrats run for cover — that question won’t be asked.

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