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McGuinty Won’t Apologize For Secret Law Confusion

A man is searched by police while trying to enter Allan Gardens, June 25, 2010. Shawne McKeown, CityNews.ca.

Was it simply a case of “good intentions” with bad results?

Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty won’t apologize for a provincial legislation amendment that led to what provincial ombudsman Andre Marin called a “mass violation of civil rights” during the G20 summit this summer. McGuinty did admit that his government moved too quickly to implement the once misunderstood rule.

The Premier said the government amended the 1939 Public Works Act, created to protect public buildings during war, with “good intentions” aimed at helping police keep the city secure during the summit.

“At a minimum there is a growing understanding and consensus among thoughtful people that the very premise of our regulation, the law itself, was likely not in keeping with the balance that we would want to strike at the beginning of the 21st century when it comes to public safety and freedom of expression,” he said.

“We clearly acted on the basis of a law that has now been brought into disrepute and we look forward to making the necessary changes at the earliest possible opportunity.”

Marin, who released a report Tuesday entitled “Caught in the Act” on the so-called secret law debacle, said there was deliberate misinformation about the extent of the legislation.

In the days leading up to the G20, it was widely believed that police had the right to demand identification from anyone within five metres of the security fence and conduct searches. What Toronto Police Chief Bill Blair and other officials failed to disclose at the time was those “wartime” powers only applied inside the security fence, not outside.

Marin noted the rule should’ve actually been called the five-kilometre rule because police were stopping and searching people far away from the security fence.

More than 1,000 people were arrested over the G20 weekend. Marin said hundreds and possibly thousands were detained without cause.

The provincial Liberals admit they could’ve done a better job of communicating the details of the amended Second World War law.

With files from the Canadian Press.