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In their haste to bump up G20 security, Ontario authorities kept silent on a convoluted amendment to 71-year-old legislation that was "illegal" and "likely unconstitutional," abrogating the Charter rights of thousands of people in the process, says Ontario Ombudsman Andre Marin.

Toronto police Chief Bill Blair, who requested the regulation, misrepresented it after officers were trained according to an incorrect interpretation of the law, Mr. Marin said. The chief then refused to speak with or provide information to the Ombudsman investigating its execution.

Police spokesman Mark Pugash argues Mr. Marin was overstepping his jurisdiction by making the request. And Chief Blair, for his part, says he did everything in his power to ensure his officers applied the law correctly.

"I certainly made no effort to deceive anyone or to withhold information," he told CTV Tuesday.

But according to Mr. Marin, the secretive amendment to the Public Works Protection Act put in place without debate in the weeks leading up to Toronto's G20 summit shouldn't have been enacted, period. The 1939 law was originally meant to protect public works during the war. The regulation allowed police to detain, question and arrest without warrant people within the G20 security perimeter. Chief Blair told reporters the Friday before the summit that it gave police those privileges within five metres of the fence.

It even became a source of friction within the Integrated Security Unit for which it was ostensibly created: E-mails from ISU members distance OPP and RCMP forces from the regulation, with one July 1 e-mail noting the regulation was "clearly a [Toronto Police Service] request."

Community Safety Minister Jim Bradley said Tuesday he is committed unequivocally to adopting the recommendations in Mr. Marin's report, which include revising the act or replacing it entirely, examining whether the range of powers it gives police is appropriate and developing a protocol on informing the public when police are given added authority. The province has six months to report back on its progress.

Premier Dalton McGuinty wouldn't comment on the 125-page report Tuesday, saying he hasn't read it.

Authorities deliberately kept the public in the dark on the law, Mr. Marin told reporters, in what he called "the most massive compromise of civil liberties in Canadian history" which "amounted to martial law in Toronto."

"The ministry at one point said, 'We could've done better.' You're darn right they could have done better," he said. "There was a premeditated, planned, conscious decision not to announce the existence of the legislation or the reviving of this act."

In his report, he said: "By creating security zones to bar entry and by authorizing arrest, it imposed definite limits on freedom of expression."

The report also found widespread misapplication of the law, with police stopping, searching and arresting people passing well outside the area to which it applied.

But the Toronto Police Service said that simply isn't the case.

"His allegation that hundreds were detained under the PWPA is entirely false," Police Services Board chair Alok Mukherjee said in an interview.

Mr. Marin said he received "zero" co-operation from the police during his investigation. A string of e-mails from between the Ombudsman's office and the Toronto police indicate Chief Blair repeatedly declined requests for information and to interview his officers and himself regarding the regulation.

In an Aug. 5 letter, the ombudsman's office asked for "copies of any document" given to police officers regarding the Public Works Protection Act, as well as interviews with five officers and one sergeant concerning their conduct in relation to the regulation.

In a reply three weeks later, Chief Blair's counsel declined: "While the Chief does not want to hamper the work of the Ombudsman's Office," said Jerome Wiley, he has instructed me to advise you that the Toronto Police Service will not comply with the requests in your letter."

The missive notes the ombudsman "has no jurisdiction over the police," and adds that "there are civil actions, Ontario Human Rights Complaints, a review by the Office of the Independent Police Review Director, a review by the Toronto Police Services Board and a large number of criminal cases which potentially could be affected."

A second letter, dated Sept. 1, requested an interview with Chief Blair and "any documentation" relating to the regulation. The reply was identical.

"Our position was and is that we are co-operating fully with bodies that have jurisdiction over the police service," said police spokesman Mark Pugash, noting that in addition to Ontario's Office of the Independent Review Director and the province's Special Investigations Unit, the Police Services Board has commissioned its own independent review of police conduct during the G20.

"You have three bodies investigating these issues. Another body comes along that has no authority or jurisdiction – where do you draw the line?"

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