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A police officer peers out through a locked gate inside the perimeter fence leading to the Metro Toronto Convention Centre G20 Summit site in Toronto June 26, 2010. (MIKE CASSESE/MIKE CASSESE/REUTERS)
A police officer peers out through a locked gate inside the perimeter fence leading to the Metro Toronto Convention Centre G20 Summit site in Toronto June 26, 2010. (MIKE CASSESE/MIKE CASSESE/REUTERS)

Globe editorial

Bring clarity to vague summit laws Add to ...

The tumult and shouting have more or less died - to paraphrase a poem by Rudyard Kipling - and the captains and the kings certainly departed at the end of the G20 summit. But in order to prepare for comparable future events, some flesh should be added to the bare bones of the legislation that permitted the creation of security zones that almost emptied Canada's largest financial district - so that some surrounding areas became theatres of conflict.

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More specifics are needed to balance and accommodate various principles and interests. The implications are much greater for meetings of heads of state and government, than for municipal road closings to make way for such events as a Santa Claus parade. And it is not good enough to wait for Charter litigation to sort out the problems after the fact.

The section of the federal statute in question, the Foreign Missions and International Organizations Act, was designed for events such as the G20 meeting, but it is too brief and consequently gives the RCMP sweeping powers, with some provision for co-operation with provincial and municipal police - without making clear whether these other forces can then likewise "take appropriate measures, including controlling, limiting or prohibiting access to any area to the extent and in a manner that is reasonable in the circumstances."

Meanwhile, the provincial government of Ontario deployed the Public Works Protection Act, a statute intended for the guarding of such infrastructural installations as electricity-generating stations, and applied it to a whole set of city blocks, sidewalks and all. This law does include a "place" in its list of things that can be declared a public work, but it's a stretch.

At the very least, the interests of people who live, work or otherwise carry on business in the areas affected should be explicitly given real weight in such legislation. Parliament and provincial legislatures should especially take a hard look at the practice known as "kettling" (as in containment of steam), sometimes and more expressively known as corralling, in which police encircle and cordon off whoever happens to be in some area - passersby, local residents and business people, panhandlers, protesters, vandals, anarcho-nihilists and all - sometimes for hours at a time. Even if this is necessary for a short time, one would think that some triage is possible, to sort out the troublemakers from the ordinary pedestrians.

The Charter rights to freedom of assembly and protection from unreasonable search and arbitrary detention are at risk in such situations, but the Parliament and legislatures of Canada should approach these security matters less by anticipation of court proceedings than by trying to reasonably balance principles and interests that concern all Canadians.

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