Friday, June 25, 2010

Five metres or Six metres: Is there a big difference?

Today we learned that the police standing guard outside the G8 and G20 summits have been granted special temporary powers by legislation that was passed by Ontario's cabinet on June 2nd, 2010 without debate. These powers will only last for the seven days around the time of the summit and are set to expire on June 28th. The laws require anyone that approaches within 5 metres of the security fence to supply security personnel with identification, submit to a search and explain why they are in the area. If they refuse to co-operate, they can be arrested and fined up to $500 and cold face up to 2 months in jail.

The regulation was passed under the province's Public Works Protection Act; the cabinet responded to an "extraordinary request" made by Toronto's Police Chief Bill Blair. The 5 metre buffer zone is being used to protect the fence itself since the police want to ensure that no one has an opportunity to pull down the fence that is being used to separate the world's VIPs from the unwashed masses of Canadian society. I'd like to know who came up with the seemingly random distance of 5 metres since it appears nowhere in the Act. What happens if you stand precisely 6 metres from the fence; are you in violation of the Act? The Act also refers constantly to "public works". If you live in a condo that you own within the secure zone but require access through a publicly owned street, does the law still apply in the same fashion since the condo is obviously privately owned? If I thought that the fence was actually there to protect the VIPs from terrorists, I would feel somewhat differently but I believe that it exists solely to keep the "small people" (us) away from the "important people (them).

From the Public Works Protection Act, here is the pertinent section about identifying yourself. Remember, don't leave home without it (your wallet that is)!

Powers of guard or peace officer

3.A guard or peace officer,

(a) may require any person entering or attempting to enter any public work or any approach thereto to furnish his or her name and address, to identify himself or herself and to state the purpose for which he or she desires to enter the public work, in writing or otherwise;

(b) may search, without warrant, any person entering or attempting to enter a public work or a vehicle in the charge or under the control of any such person or which has recently been or is suspected of having been in the charge or under the control of any such person or in which any such person is a passenger; and

(c) may refuse permission to any person to enter a public work and use such force as is necessary to prevent any such person from so entering. R.S.O. 1990, c. P.55, s. 3.

Here is the pertinent section about the penalties for disobeying your local security official:

Refusal to obey guard, etc.

5.(1)Every person who neglects or refuses to comply with a request or direction made under this Act by a guard or peace officer, and every person found upon a public work or any approach thereto without lawful authority, the proof whereof lies on him or her, is guilty of an offence and on conviction is liable to a fine of not more than $500 or to imprisonment for a term of not more than two months, or to both.


(2)A guard or peace officer may arrest, without warrant, any person who neglects or refuses to comply with a request or direction of a guard or peace officer, or who is found upon or attempting to enter a public work without lawful authority. R.S.O. 1990, c. P.55, s. 5.

What I found interesting was flipping through the pages of comments posted by online readers following the articles in the online versions of the major Canadian newspapers (Globe and Mail, Toronto Star, National Post). It seemed that there was about a 50;50 split between those that thought the law was a good idea to maintain control over the "protesting hoodlum element" and those that thought that the law was a very bad idea and that it infringed on the rights of people to pass freely through the society. I also took into account the "thumbs up" and "thumbs down" that other readers use to rank comments made. I had actually expected a far stronger anti-legislation movement than there appeared to be. I'm not certain whether readers responses in favour of the use of this legislation reflects the movement of Canadian society to the right, people's frustration with the hooligan element who actually negate the power of protests by legitimate interest groups or that it just reflects the nature of Canadians that take the time to post their feelings online.

On a personal note, I'm totally against the use of this legislation in this particular case, unfortunately, the powers that we have elected "democratically" seem helpless in the face of a few thugs who may cause problems for the rest of society. It's kind of like being back in junior high when the teacher threatened detentions for the entire class for the misdeeds of one or two students. We are all being tarred with the same brush whether we are guilty or not. One thing I do think; the implementation of this legislation for the duration of these summits should have been made public long before today. That is the least that our elected officials could have done for those who voted them into positions of power. We deserve to know exactly what you are doing on our behalf.


  1. I'm one of those who doesn't really mind the law (note that I am also nowhere near Huntsville or Toronto) but I do think it should have been debated in the legislature, and agree it should have been made public much earlier. Then again, if you are a terrorist (or hooligan thug) and you wanted to bring down the fence, wouldn't it be nice to know you'll have to plant your bomb or whatever a week or two early? I don't know what kind of bomb could be planted on a fence that wouldn't be seen by cops patrolling around the fence, but I'm no terrorist.

  2. At first it seemed draconian but after today's events it now appears wholly justified - all because of those violent assholes clad in black.

    I hope they round them up and drop them in the middle of Northern Ontario. That's what they deserve. It is one thing to protest, but their actions harm us all.

  3. This law has been on the books since 1990.

    Here's the source of your 5 metres: