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adam radwanski

Amid all of André Marin's hyperbole, someone else's words are the most damning thing to be found in the Ontario Ombudsman's G20 report.

The Toronto Police Service "has made many public mistakes over the last 72 hours," one Ontario Provincial Police officer wrote to another during the controversial crackdown on protesters during last June's international summit. "The public has largely supported police security operations for G20. What is not supported is the actions by TPS and the inconsistencies of answers they continue to provide…."

The internal e-mail, which explained why the OPP and the RCMP declined to participate in a joint news conference with their municipal counterparts, is the latest indication that the Toronto force went off the rails last summer. And along with other revelations on Tuesday, it stands to put even more heat on embattled Police Chief Bill Blair.

The primary focus of Mr. Marin's report was the provincial government's decision to very quietly place short-term restrictions on Torontonians' civil liberties with a temporary amendment to the little-known Public Works Protection Act. But much as the notoriously sound-bite-friendly Ombudsman spared no rhetorical flourish in criticizing Dalton McGuinty and his ministers - his news conference culminated in a seemingly impromptu declaration that the government was guilty of initiating "the most massive compromise of civil liberties in Canadian history" - he offered little about their behaviour that wasn't reported last summer.

While Mr. McGuinty's Liberals were certainly guilty of an appalling abdication of responsibility, failing to correct the public record even when they knew police were misleading the public about their legislation, it increasingly appears they were the patsies of a police chief who - despite previously accumulating a great deal of good will - is shaping up as the villain of this ugly saga.

It was Chief Blair who requested that the G20 security zone be designated a "public work" under the Second World War-era legislation, so presumably he knew what that meant. But his officers were misinformed as to their new powers, incorrectly believing they were entitled to conduct searches and demand identification up to five metres outside the zone. And even after reports of a wrongful arrest prompted provincial officials to tell him to set his officers straight, he allowed confusion to reign by failing to publicly correct the record until the summit was over.

Mr. Marin suggests this confusion contributed to the sense of a police state across downtown, and he seems to have a point. In addition to further reports of detainments and searches outside the perimeter, his office also received a complaint that the PWPA was invoked to search protesters at Allan Gardens more than two kilometres away. And across the city, officers seemed to be unusually emboldened, in some instances to a dangerous extent.

Given the light that's recently shone on him and his force, one might expect Chief Blair to show some contrition. But the opposite seems to be the case.

Last week, he claimed a video showing the alleged police beating of an unarmed protester during the G20 had been "doctored" and that the protester was in fact a "violent, armed offender" - a contention he was subsequently forced to retract.

Now, it emerges that Toronto police did not co-operate with Mr. Marin's investigation, declining requests for interviews and documentation. That was their prerogative - as representatives noted, the Ombudsman has no jurisdiction over them - but it hardly shows a force eager to get to the bottom of what went wrong.

That much did indeed go wrong is at this point almost beyond dispute. That OPP e-mail - which notes, in addition to miscommunication of the temporary law, the much-mocked news conference at which Chief Blair was found to be "misrepresenting" weapons he claimed had been seized from protesters - makes clear that other police thought their Toronto colleagues were running amok.

"If a joint press conference were to be held," the OPP officer wrote, "the questions would be very direct and we would be forced to contradict TPS in front of the media or tacitly endorse what they say."

Even then, it seems, Chief Blair was on an island. And as the revelations keep emerging, he looks more isolated than ever.

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