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McGuinty refuses to apologize over G20 fence law

Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty says the government doesn't owe anyone an apology following the protests, riots and hundreds of arrests during the G20 summit in which Queen's Park was believed to have expanded police powers.

Frank Gunn/The Canadian Press

Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty admits he could have done a better job of dispelling widespread confusion about police powers during the explosive G20 protests in Toronto, but insists he doesn't owe anyone an apology.

Speaking publicly for the first time about the issue Friday, Mr. McGuinty expressed regret over the confusion surrounding a secret law that many believed had temporarily expanded police powers to stop and detain people during the global summit of world leaders.

But he won't apologize for what happened last weekend, Mr. McGuinty said in an interview with The Canadian Press.

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"In hindsight, I think that we could have - and probably should have - done something to make it perfectly clear to people what we were actually talking about," he said Friday.

Mr. McGuinty insists efforts were made "behind the scenes" to clarify the regulation that many believed allowed police to arrest anyone who came within five metres of the summit security fence and didn't provide identification.

But that power never actually existed - and neither police nor the province set the record straight until the summit was over. In fact, both made comments about the necessity of such powers.

The temporary regulation, which was passed in secret June 2, did decree that all streets and sidewalks inside the fence were a public work until 11:59 p.m. Monday. Under the Ontario Public Works Protection Act, that allowed police to search people trying to enter that area.

Newspaper ads and notices put up on provincial and city websites "made it pretty clear" what the new rule involved, Mr. McGuinty said.

As confusion grew, government officials talked to police about what the rule actually decreed, but the information wasn't made public "in a way that provided instant clarification," he said.

"In hindsight, I think it would be fair for us to have taken on that responsibility to communicate that directly with the public," he said.

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But most Ontario residents would agree that it's reasonable to impose strict rules during such high-profile events as the G20, Mr. McGuinty said.

The Canadian Civil Liberties Association and others blame the government for the confusion and have called for an apology.

"Certainly I think people had a right to know that the law had changed and that they should conform to different laws," said spokeswoman Nathalie Des Rosiers.

"It was a major mistake not to have publicized this change in the law."

Ms. Des Rosiers said she expects lawsuits to be launched in the wake of the G20 summit, which saw more than 900 people detained in what's believed to be the largest mass arrest in Canadian history.

There were also complaints about police engaging in arbitrary searches throughout the weekend in different areas of Toronto, even far away from the G20 security zone.

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But Mr. McGuinty was unrepentant.

"I know that some folks feel that their rights have been abridged, and there are avenues available to them and I would encourage them to pursue any remedies that are available to them through those avenues," he said.

Opposition parties are demanding that the Ontario Liberals accept responsibility for what they're calling a fiasco that curtailed people's civil liberties.

NDP Leader Andrea Horwath even suggested Friday that the government deliberately withheld information that would have clarified the rule.

"Ultimately, it is his responsibility to respond to the concerns that have been raised ever since the first arrest took place," Ms. Horwath said.

"The silence has been deafening on the part of the premier and it's time that he actually do his job and account to the people for what took place."

Some are calling for a public inquiry into how government and police handled security during the explosive G20 demonstrations that saw a group of protesters rampage through the downtown core, smashing windows and setting police cruisers alight.

But the Progressive Conservatives dismissed the idea as a waste of time and money.

"I think it's clear now that the government made a blunder on this," said Tory critic Garfield Dunlop.

"I don't think we need a public inquiry to do that and I don't think we should spend millions of dollars, and that's what it would do. ... I don't think we can afford to do that right now. I just think the premier - in good faith - should apologize on behalf of the government."

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