Ontario Ombudsman to probe controversial G20 ‘five-metre rule’

NationalPost.com – G20
July 9, 2010.   Kenton Wallace

Ontario Ombudsman André Marin will probe the so-called “five-metre rule” quietly enacted by the provincial government in advance of the G20 summit.

Last week, Toronto Police Chief Bill Blair told reporters that police were never granted widely reported special powers to detain and arrest people who came within five metres of the G20 security fence.

On the contrary, the Ministry of Community Safety and Correctional Services insisted a change to the Public Works Protection Act made behind closed doors by Premier Dalton McGuinty’s cabinet applied only to the inside of the security fence, which stretched around a large section of the city’s core. The Act, which dates back to 1939, governs most public space in Ontario and is applied every day in courthouses and other designated public areas.

The chief of police had originally said there was a five-metre zone around the security barrier where police could ask people to produce identification, explain why they were there and allow officers to search their bags. The new measure was widely reported in the media, but the police force and provincial government made little effort to correct the record.

The province insists that no one was arrested or detained under the Act, an assertion some criminal lawyers dispute, saying their clients have been charged under the Act.

A statement from Mr. Marin’s office says the ombudsman’s investigation will look into the origin and subsequent communication of the regulation, and will be conducted by the Special Ombudsman Response Team.

To date, the Ombudsman’s office says it has received 22 complaints relating to the G20, including several alleging that a lack of transparency and public communication about the regulation “led to an atmosphere of secrecy and confusion and contributed to violations of civil liberties.”

“The complaints we’ve received so far raise serious concerns about this regulation and the way it was communicated, and I think there is a very strong public interest in finding out exactly what happened and how that affected the rest of the events of the G20 weekend,” Mr. Marin said in the statement.

The investigation is expected to take 90 days.

Anyone who has a complaint or relevant information is asked to call 1-800-263-1830 during business hours or complete an online complaint form at www.ombudsman.on.ca.

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