More than three years after the G20 summit in Toronto, the Ontario government has still not kept its promise to scrap the controversial law that gave police the power to arbitrarily stop, search and arrest people during the protests.
Ombudsman Andre Marin's annual report highlighted the Public Works Protection Act – the so-called "five-metre rule" – as one of several reforms the province has failed to follow through on over the last year.
He also called on Premier Kathleen Wynne to expand his powers to oversee hospitals, universities and municipalities, pointing out that Ontario is the only province that does not allow its ombudsman to investigate problems in the health care system.
"It is one thing to resolve a case quickly, which we often do without resorting to a formal investigation or report. But if the resolution is not followed up with action, it's as hollow as a broken promise," Mr. Marin told reporters at Queen's Park Tuesday morning. “Ontario is a have-not province when it comes to accountability.”
The Ontario government secretly invoked the Public Works Protection Act, an obscure piece of World War II-era legislation that expands police powers to protect government infrastructure, in June 2010. The Act gave police the power to arrest anyone who trespassed into the summit zone in downtown Toronto.
Police, however, misinterpreted the law to mean they could stop, search and arrest anyone who came within five metres of the outside of the fence. Officers even cited the law blocks away from the summit site as justification for arbitrarily detaining and searching people. The province allowed this misunderstanding to continue throughout the summit, which saw the largest mass arrests in Canadian history.
Mr. Marin decried the law in a report later that year and the Liberals eventually agreed to change it.
Under legislation tabled last year, the powers of the Act would be restricted to court houses and power plants, and it could not be simply applied anywhere the government wanted to give police extra powers, as they did with the summit site. That bill, however, died when former premier Dalton McGuinty prorogued parliament last fall.
The legislation was re-introduced in the spring. The office of Community Safety Minister Madeleine Meilleur said the government is hoping the law will move forward during the fall sitting of the legislature. It is not clear when it will come to a final vote.
Mr. Marin said the government has not made progress on regulating the non-emergency medical transport industry.
“This is a case where the wheels are literally falling off the bus. We have some of these vehicles, parts are flying off them. We have patients falling off gurneys. It’s a question of time before there is a major catastrophe,” he said. “You’re safer to take a taxi from your home to the hospital than to take one of these vehicles, which are often beaters.”
His office held off on writing a full report on the industry because Ms. Wynne, when she was transportation minister, and Health Minister Deb Matthews both agreed to tackle the problems. But they have not done so.
Ms. Matthews said in a statement that her ministry is still planning to bring in regulations, but are still working on them.
“We are consulting with industry, health care providers, consumers and their families, and updating the Ombudsman on our progress,” she said. “Non-urgent transportation services play an important role in a well-functioning health care system."
Mr. Marin reiterated his call for his mandate to be expanded to cover cities, police forces, hospitals, childrens' aid societies and long-term care. He said his office had to turn away 2,541 complaints over the last year because he did not have the power to act on them.
"There is simply no rational reason not to allow citizens to complain to their ombudsman about these publicly-funded bodies – particularly hospitals, long-term care homes and childrens' aid societies, which touch the lives of so many vulnerable people," he said.
Currently, patient advocates help people navigate the health care system, but Mr. Marin said their role is to “greet and pass on compliments.”
Earlier this year, the New Democrats made expanding Mr. Marin's oversight to include the health care sector one of the party's conditions for supporting the Liberals' budget. It was the only condition that the Grits rejected outright.
NDP Health Critic France Gelinas said that patient advocates work sometimes, but that they aren’t as effective as the ombudsman would be.
“You’re dealing with an employee of the hospital who reports to that hospital -- so right off the bat, there’s a credibility issue,” she said. “The ombudsman is an independent third party”
Mr. Marin's office helps resolve individual complaints about the government – nearly 20,000 in the last year, according to his report. It also investigates broader, systemic problems and makes recommendations for reform.