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Police had 'communication issues' with G20, board chair says Add to ...

The head of the civilian board overseeing the Toronto Police says the force may have made a mistake by not telling the public they'd mischaracterized the powers police had during the G20 summit.

"That may be one of the communication issues to be looked at," police board chair Alok Mukherjee said in an interview Wednesday, "whether the correction was properly notified to the public."

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It was the provincial Ministry of Community Safety that notified police Friday afternoon that the police force and its chief were misinterpreting a controversial amendment the province passed to help police secure the area around the Metro Toronto Convention Centre.

Police had thought the temporary amendment to the Public Works Protection Act meant they could demand identification from, and search or arrest without warrant, anyone within five metres of the fence encircling the security perimeter.

It didn't: The amendment, which lasted from June 21 through June 28, only governed what they could do within the fenced area.

Police Chief Bill Blair had given a press conference that morning defending the five-metre policy in the face of public consternation: Many civil-liberties advocates argued the amendment had been made in secret and without giving people proper notice that their rights had changed.

"There was an honest misinterpretation by people who were dealing with these matters in the midst of the heat of the moment," Mr. Mukherjee said.

"It was the government, the minister of community safety, that realized that there was a misinterpretation. And they drew it to the attention of the staff and they then advised the chief right away. … There was no willful misinterpretation. There was no intent to mislead anybody.

"And as far as the police officers were concerned, they were advised right away, as soon as the mistake was detected."

There have been growing calls for an independent, third-party inquiry into police actions leading up to and during the G20 - from the provincial NDP, the Canadian Civil Liberties Association, Amnesty International and Greenpeace.

Between allegations of misconduct, arbitrary mass arrests and confusion over what powers police had - and why they didn't clarify them to the public - "the whole thing is turning into quite a fiasco," said NDP leader Andrea Horwath.

An internal police review, she argues, "is not enough: It doesn't give you that outside perspective. … These questions will only be answered by an independent review."

Mayor David Miller's spokesman Stuart Green said Wednesday the Mayor stands by remarks he made in support of the police previously, and sees no need for a third-party investigation.

"The Mayor is aware of allegations and complaints made by members of the public and media to the civilian review bodies that monitor police actions. As he said Monday, it is appropriate for those independent agencies to investigate all complaints and determine appropriate courses of action."

CCLA counsel Nathalie Des Rosiers and several constitutional lawyers have argued that regardless of the way the amended act was represented or acted upon, the fact that no one in the province or the police force bothered to publicize it until just before the G20 weekend itself is problematic.

But both at a police board meeting Tuesday and in an interview, Mr. Mukherjee said he sees no need - yet - for such an inquiry. Chief Blair has been tasked with spearheading an internal review of the Integrated Security Unit's own operations. Mr. Mukherjee said it's still not clear how much of that will remain public: "It depends on what's in the report. By law, there are certain matters that have to be kept confidential."

But "we have a number of independent mechanisms if there is any concern that, you know, some of the police behaviour was excessive or excessive use of force was used, or someone was detained unlawfully - there is an independent process available already," he said.

"I have not seen any other reason why there should be what is being called an independent public inquiry."

He said he hopes the current public anger over mass arrests and allegations of police misconduct subside, and "we will come up with a proper process to give people an opportunity to share their concerns."

And, he added, "I hope that we'll not have another G20 summit."

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