Post 659 Dalton McGuinty, Bill Blair defend quiet boost in arrest powers

Premier Dalton McGuinty denies it was an abuse of power for his government to secretly approve sweeping new powers for police.

“I just think it’s in keeping with the values and standards of Ontarians,” McGuinty told the Toronto Star on Friday amid a battery of complaints from opposition parties, city councillors, civil libertarians and regular Torontonians that the new rules were kept secret and, some say, may go too far.

The rules allow police to arrest and potentially jail anyone refusing to produce identification or be searched within 5 metres of the G20 security zone.

“Most Ontarians understand that there’s something extraordinary happening inside our province,” the Premier said. “We’ve tried to limit the intrusiveness to a specific secure zone as much as we can by working together with our police.”

However, a city hall source said Toronto Mayor David Miller was blindsided by a front-page Star story about the regulation passed at the request of Toronto police Chief Bill Blair. An unhappy Miller and Blair — normally close allies — later had a brief conversation about it and Miller refused interview requests from the Star.

And nine councillors and mayoral candidates canvassed Friday unanimously said Torontonians should have been told loud and clear their rights had changed. All but one said there was no doubt it was incumbent on Blair to consult, or at least inform, Miller.

“These are police state regulations — we fought wars to protect freedoms like these,” thundered Councillor Howard Moscoe.

“Yes, (Blair) should have made the change public. Not everyone carries ID and they have a right to know if they’re breaking the law by going near a fence.”

At Queen’s Park, NDP justice critic and lawyer Peter Kormos said: “This law was not only passed in secret, it was kept secret.

“This is the stuff Kafka wrote novels about. Secret laws that the citizenry is not aware of are the hallmarks of tin pot dictatorships.”

The measure, carrying a penalty of up to two months in jail or a $500 fine upon conviction, was revealed after a 31-year-old York University master’s student refused to show identification near the fence and was arrested based on a regulation few knew existed. He was held for five hours in a pen at a temporary holding centre on Eastern Ave.

Seeking to calm the uproar, Blair held a news conference Friday morning defending his request. And he insisted posting the change on a government website was enough notice to the public and protesters.

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